Week 6: Do we need another inquiry? #107days

Here in the Justice Shed we’re quite responsive and organic in our approach to campaigning (which really means we aren’t amazingly good at forward planning and fly by the seat of our pants a little), one of the advantages of this is that we can respond to issues as they emerge. A tweet from Katherine Runswick-Cole and a blogpost from Chris Hatton stopped us in our tracks this week, and we decided to embrace the discomfort of them and make Week 6: Do we need another inquiry? week!

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A potted history of inquiries into abuse and mistreatment of learning disabled people in the UK follows:

1967, Ely Hospital Wales:

Conditions at Ely Hospital came to the attention of the world through the pages of the News of the World. It reported allegations of ill treatment of patients and pilfering by staff. The allegations were made by a nursing assistant at the hospital… The public outrage which followed led to the setting up a committee of inquiry…It was Howe who insisted the inquiry should go far beyond the events at Ely itself, to look at the whole system and the way in which people with learning difficulties – “mental handicap”, as it was known at the time – were treated within the 20-year-old NHS.

Nationally, the impact of events at Ely was profound. From this time onwards, the momentum to close the long-stay hospitals and to resettle patients in the community gathered unstoppable pace.

It wasn’t until 1996 that Ely eventually closed, a mere 29 years after the horrors first became known about.

Fast forward to 2007 and an almost identical scenario was uncovered at Orchard Hill Hospital in the London Borough of Sutton. Yet it took a further two years before, in 2009, Orchard Hill eventually closed, and even then some residents remained on site in bungalows awaiting purpose built community accommodation. Forty two years after Ely.

In between times, there were ‘scandals’ of abuse uncovered in Longcare in 1994 and Budock Hospital in Cornwall in 2006.

In recent times we have the Panorama uncovered abuse at Winterbourne View in 2011. At this stage we can take a look at a timeline that Sara put together to situate what happened to LB, within the ‘national outcry’ post-Winterbourne:


The ‘post-Winterbourne’ era is marked by what can only be described as an apathy, everything is too hard or too complex. Everyone merrily talks about the shock and shame, hands are wrung up and down the country, and while some individuals and organisations work their socks off trying to get people out of ATUs, a larger group with vested financial interests join committees and reports, that seem to get us nowhere.

Earlier this year, in February 2015, the National Audit Office reported on Care services for people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviourA grilling by the Public Accounts Committee revealed Viv Cooper of the CBF to be just about the only person who appeared to both understand the task ahead and be passionately committed to closing ATUs now, rather than to be overwhelmed at the scale of the task or reluctant to commit. The Committee didn’t of course meet any experts with a learning disability. Our campaign responded to the NAO report with our own audit Actually improving care services for people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour.

So the question of this week’s #107days is ‘Do we need another inquiry?’.