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RCN Learning Disability Nursing Forum response to the BBC Panorama programme

 Jonathan Beebee 23 May 2019

This is the response from the RCN Learning Disability Nursing Forum to the BBC Panorama programme “Undercover Hospital Abuse Scandal” aired 22nd May 2019.

First and foremost, we share the public’s outrage and disgust at seeing people with learning disabilities being abused and mistreated in a setting that is supposed to be supporting them when they are most distressed. The abuse shown is not acceptable, and our thoughts are with the people affected and their families. It could be any of our sons, daughters, brothers, or sisters, or even ourselves receiving that abuse. We are grateful that the programme has brought this to light and we hope the people affected are now safe and being supported with this.

It is horrific that abuse like this is continuing to occur eight years on from Winterbourne View. This programme has been aired less than two months after NHS England’s Transforming Care programme ends. This has been a five year programme and this documentary evidences that Care has not been Transformed. Yet plans to continue the momentum of this work now the programme has ended remain unclear.

The Transforming Care programme has made some fantastic progress in reducing hospital placements and reducing lengths of hospital admissions for people with learning disabilities. However, we feel that hospital admissions are a symptom of the real issues and the problem that causes hospital admissions remains unaddressed. We call upon NHS England and their partner organisations to initiate a further work stream to tackle the real issues.

The despairing reality is that abuse like that which this documentary has uncovered will not be exclusive to hospital settings. Simply closing hospitals will not stop people from experiencing abuse like this.

The root cause, in our view, is how society treats people with learning disabilities. This starts in our local communities. For example, previous medical terms to describe learning disabilities get used by communities as what is considered to be the worst insults you could give to others leading to these terms themselves being considered offensive. If the worst terms people can use to offend others are the terms you are labelled with then society must view you as the worst thing to be in their community. These attitude ripple through our communities and lead to people with learning disabilities being treated as less than 2nd class citizens and because this is the norm it is accepted by all as ok.

To address this people need to be supported appropriately, wherever they may live. When people with learning disabilities do not receive the right support they are more likely to experience crises. When a crisis occurs, the local communities can be fearful, and question the robustness of the support that is available to them, which then leads to calls for hospital admissions. People need competent support in their own homes that is bespoke to their needs to live fulfilling and dignified lives.

We are aware of the funding pressures many local authorities are facing. We know some local authorities are responding to this by moving away from individual support packages and there is currently a growth in shared support, or core and cluster models. Whilst this has some efficiencies for some we are concerned this is replicating institutional care with another label. There remains a significant group of people with learning disabilities who will not live meaningful lives in these settings.

Whilst we have highlighted here that this abuse happens in all settings, we also wanted to raise that the abuse that has been shown in this documentary and the abuse that happens in other settings is a small dark corner of the support people with learning disabilities that Panorama has shone a light on. We are very grateful to the Panorama programme for shining light on this issue, but want to emphasise that most support for people with learning disabilities is done by supportive and caring people who are doing all they can to enable people to live independent and fulfilling lives. The majority of nurses who work in specialist hospitals are skilled, caring, committed people. We need to continue to grow the skilled workforce, which is shared between social care and health care settings. We need the career pathways of support workers who support people with learning disabilities to be promoted as one of the most rewarding careers available with clear pathways into Learning Disability Nursing and a national plan for the roles of Learning Disability Nursing in social care and health settings.


Silhouette of a man

Jonathan Beebee

Learning Disability Nursing Forum member

Jonathan is a Registered Learning Disability Nurse with MSc in Positive Approaches to Challenging Behaviour. 

Page last updated - 21/10/2019