‘Urgent action needed to safeguard human rights of people with learning disabilities’

Nurses urge RCN council to lobby government, after BBC programme shows alleged abuse

Nurses urge RCN council to lobby government, after BBC programme shows alleged abuse

Picture: BBC

Safeguarding the human rights of people with learning disabilities and autism requires urgent action from government, nurses told RCN congress in the wake of a care scandal.

On Wednesday, the BBC’s Panorama programme aired undercover footage that appeared to show patients with learning disabilities being mocked, intimidated and restrained at Whorlton Hall specialist hospital in County Durham.

Whorlton Hall is now closed, and Durham Police said on Friday that ten members of staff had been arrested in connection with alleged abuse of patients.

‘People seen as less than human’

In an emergency debate at RCN congress the day after the programme aired, members voted unanimously for RCN council to lobby government to safeguard the human rights of people with learning disabilities.

Jonathan Beebee.
Picture: John Houlihan

Debate proposer and Southampton learning disability nurse Jonathan Beebee said: ‘I believe systematic abuse is down to people with learning disabilities being seen as less than second-class citizens, less than human beings.’

Paul Watson, of Humber branch, called for a public inquiry into watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which rated the hospital ‘good’ during a 2017 inspection.

Mr Watson said: ‘The CQC admits it missed so many chances, but who is regulating the regulators? A public inquiry is needed into the failings of the CQC [in this case].’

Neither mental health nor learning disability services

The debate also heard from nurses who shared personal stories. Northampton nurse Victoria Cordwell said she has a child with autism and it is often difficult to find the right support because autism doesn’t sit with either mental health or learning disability specialties.

‘Hospitals can look after them and provide healthcare but they are still vulnerable,’ she said. ‘We, as parents and carers, are the best advocates for these people [who] are vulnerable.’

In a statement, CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals (lead for mental health) Paul Lelliott said: ‘It is clear now that we missed what was really going on at Whorlton Hall, and we are sorry.’

Cygnet, the firm that took control of running Whorlton Hall at the start of the year, said it was ‘shocked and deeply saddened’ by the allegations, and that all patients had been transferred elsewhere.

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