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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
Patients 'suffer extensive abuse'
Budock Hospital sign
Five members of staff at the hospital have been dismissed
A damning report has raised serious concerns about the treatment and care of people with learning disabilities.

Several centres were inspected by the Healthcare Commission and Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI).

The report recommended Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust is put in special measures for "widespread institutional abuse" of patients at Budock Hospital.

Patients' families said they were disgusted at what happened. Changes have been made, the Cornwall NHS said.

Checks will now be carried out on all services in England.

The report said the scale of abuse in Cornwall was the worst the inspectorates had come across.

I cannot and will not attempt to justify what has happened, as it is inexcusable
Lezli Boswell, chief executive

During the investigation, teams of inspectors found evidence of staff hitting, pushing, and dragging people who were supposed to be in their care.

There were also reports of staff withholding food and forcing patients to take cold showers.

There were allegations of sexual abuse by fellow residents and one man had his skull fractured in an attack by another with learning disabilities.

'It's disgusting'

People's money has also been misused and the CSCI and Health Commission have referred these cases to the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service.

The inspectors said some staff were caring and well-meaning but they "lacked understanding and knowledge of best practice".

Russell Bevan, who is 37 and from St Columb Minor in Cornwall, used to share a supported living house with others with learning disabilities.

But when he complained a staff member of the trust hit him, his mother, Pauline Bevan, brought him home to care for him and reported some of the abuse.

She said: "I was absolutely appalled by what has been going on, because I never realised that this had been going on as well as Russel's case.

"I thought Russel was just a one-off case, and I was literally appalled at what was happening.

"I think it's disgusting, because we trust our sons in their care and they let them be abused."

The Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust said there were "no excuses" for the failings in its learning disability services, but stressed some changes have been made.

Charity 'horrified'

Five members of staff from Budock Hospital have been dismissed, a ward has been closed and staff are being retrained.

Chief Executive Lezli Boswell, who took over at the trust in May, has apologised in writing to the carers and service users.

She said: "I cannot and will not attempt to justify what has happened, as it is inexcusable. My job now is to turn the services around."

The report has recommended an outside special measures team should continue to help run Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust for at least another year.

It also calls for an independent review of the trust board, and services for people with learning disabilities to be designed according to individual need.

The national charity Mencap said what had happened was "truly appalling".

Needs 'overlooked'

A joint statement by Anna Walker, the chief executive of the Healthcare Commission and David Behan, CSCI's chief inspector, said the level of abuse in Cornwall was not found everywhere.

However, they called for an inspection programme of all NHS and independent healthcare providers.

"More than a million people in England (2% of the population) are estimated to have learning disabilities" they said.

"It is not acceptable to overlook the needs of these vulnerable people because they rarely capture the headlines, or in some cases are unable to champion their own rights."

The Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, says steps are being taken to ensure it does not happen again.

"The abuse that's been uncovered of people with learning disabilities is an absolute disgrace. It is completely unacceptable," she said.

"The Trust has already taken steps to put things right in Cornwall, now we've got to learn lessons from that and make sure this does not happen again to other vulnerable people."

A statement from Devon and Cornwall Police said the report was being reviewed by a senior detective and a meeting would be arranged with the Healthcare Commission, CSCI and other interested parties to establish if any action needed to be taken.

Have you had a friend or relative in care? What do you make of the findings of this report? Tell us about your experiences using the form at the bottom of the page:

Here are a selection of the comments we have received so far:

I have worked in the learning disability field for 17 years and seen good practices and bad practices from all levels of support professionals. Whistleblowing is a new term that still has negative views from large organisations. I once complained about the treatment of a person living in a care home (i was an agency member of staff) and was told i would not be asked to work at any of that organisations homes again. I now work with staff, carers and people with learning disabilities to make sure vulnerable people are at the heart of any decision making about them and how they want to live their life.
Justin Walker, London, Uk

Having been a volunteer in the field of learning disability for 13 years the only part of the report that surprised me was the plans to properly inspect all care homes in England. This level of unchallenged, unacceptable abuse has been going on for far too long and it is about time a proper review takes place.
Michael Donoghue, London

I have been an NHS Learning Disability Care Assistant for the last 4 years, and I can guarantee that this is an isolated incident. The homes that I have worked in have been absolutely brilliant, with all of the staff having genuine attachments and friendship with the people in their care. Staff in my area are that concerned about clients' welfare that they will sit and discuss the smallest of issues just to ensure that the client's right to free choice are not impaired. I find this incident to be absolutely disgusting, but family and friends of people in care in other parts of the country should be assured that this is a one off incident, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, the carers are treating people with the respect and morality they deserve.
Danielle Allen, Northampton, UK

We have a daughter with learning difficulties who is 16.We have been lucky as we have always turned down offers of additional help as we always believed no one could care for her as we have. It seems that our concerns have been justified and adds worry about what could happen to her in the future when we can no longer care for her. What concerns me is as the allegations are clearly a criminal matter i.e. assault, torture and theft why so far as no one been charged as clearly if proven the sooner the people concerned are behind bars the better. To let them get away Scot free sends clearly the wrong message and will stop us using the services in Cornwall when we need them
Ron Edgcumbe, Helston

People with learning disabilities need to be treated with respect and not like children. They should also have a choice in the lifestyle they want to lead. There are many ways to communicate with those who have severe learning disabilities to find out the personal preference. Most importantly, vulnerable groups need to be protected from harm and all forms of abuse.
LT, London

The Cornish news is shocking but comes as absolutely no surprise. A close relative of mine with severe learning disabilities lives in a care home in Bristol. Longterm daily administration of strong, anti-anxiety medication, insufficiently skilled staff, rapid staff turnover, lack of daytime activity: these are just some of the problems he faces. Getting anything to change, however, is like banging your head against a brick wall. This appears to be the most economically-attractive care provision in the area, and that seems to be the bottom line. This issue deperately needs further investigation.
E. Penn, Bath, UK

I have worked in the social care sector for the past two years. I previously trained to become a nurse. I have to say that service providers do not train their staff enough to cope with people with learning disabilities. BILD say that at least 80% of people with learning disabilities have had some sort of physical intervention with regards to their behaviours'. I personally think that CSCI should put more pressure on to service providers to provide the correct staff training. This would obviously lead to an uplift in fees from boroughs but again everything boils down to money.
R.Cardwell, Kent

I have a Downs Syndrome son of 25 years old. Since leaving college he has done absolutely nothing but stay at home with me, his father and 2 beautiful sisters.....yes its a struggle at times but at least I know he is safe.....Ross is lucky he has us but what about these other adults who suffer this abuse. It's about time these wicked abusers where locked up but they can complain if they are abused in our prison services. I am at work today (can only work 12 hours as I care for my son...and earn 4 too much to claim for a carers allowance) and angry, upset that this wicked abuse still goes on. What will happen to my son when I'm not here that is my worry every waking day of my life. Another scandal for this so called caring country and incompetent governments.
Christine Carter, Ruislip Middx

I am a deputy manager for community careline services special division, we support people with learning disabilities, and very complex needs in supported living. I can not believe that this sort of abuse still goes on. Why didn't a member of staff highlight their concerns of this abuse, they must have known that this was wrong. We have seventy service users, we get inspected every year by csci, social services, and every service user we support has a review with their social worker at least once a year. When i support a service user i treat them with respect, and dignity. I don't see there disability first i see the person, with the same rights as anyone else.
William baker, Blackpool England


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