Liam Farrell: Public outrage caused by a recipe for disaster

Let me write you a recipe for disaster. Imagine three groups of people.

The first is a group of adult patients with learning disabilities who have highly complex needs, behavioural problems and communication difficulties. The second is a group of low-paid, poorly motivated, untrained and inadequately supervised workers. The third is a group of bureaucrats who don't care about anything as long as they are not to blame.

Now, put the second group in charge of the first and have the situation monitored by the third group; finally, tender out the process to a private provider, replete with overseas investors, whose bottom line is to make a profit.

The outrage over the recent Panorama programme is rank hypocrisy. Society long ago decided that adults with learning disabilities were a very low priority. They have no voice, they don't vote and they can't speak up for themselves.

The abuses in this particular facility were first raised by a senior nurse; he reported his concerns to management and the government regulator - the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Nothing, of course, was done; rocking the boat is awkward and embarrassing and as long as the cash was rolling in, nobody cared (the provider was paid £3,500 per patient per week). But now that the abuse has been portrayed on nationwide television, everyone is throwing up their hands in horror.

The footage showed some of the hospital's most vulnerable patients being repeatedly pinned down, slapped, dragged into showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased, all this by the care workers, while the supervising nurse stood by. The low-paid care workers will take the lion's share of the blame; they are easy targets for scapegoating, and while they deserve everything they get, those who placed these inadequately trained workers in positions of responsibility will get away with it.

CQC chairwoman Dame Jo Williams admitted the failure to follow up the reports had been an 'unforgivable error of judgment'. She said the whistleblower had contacted the CQC two or three times and that she had no plans to resign. 'I am absolutely determined that we must do better,' she said, so that's all right then.

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