Watchdog has 'serious concerns' over Castlebeck care

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The Independent Online

A company that closed one of its private hospitals after horrifying allegations of abuse must make "root and branch improvements", a social care watchdog has said.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) investigated Castlebeck after an undercover reporter secretly filmed vulnerable residents with learning disabilities being pinned down, slapped, doused in cold water and repeatedly taunted and teased.

Twelve people who worked at Winterbourne View near Bristol were arrested and are currently on police bail.

Four other employees were suspended from Castlebeck's Rose Villa care home in Bristol amid claims of misconduct.

Today, the CQC said it had serious concerns about four other Castlebeck services and another seven did not not fully comply with essential standards of quality and safety.

CQC chief executive Cynthia Bower said: "We need to be clear: we have not found problems on the same scale as were found at Winterbourne View.

"However - we do have serious concerns at four locations in particular.

"In these cases we are taking action, although for legal reasons we cannot go into detail at this time. We will report fully later.

"Our inspections have found a range of problems, many of which are found in a number of different services.

"This clearly suggests that there are problems that Castlebeck needs to address at a corporate level - the company needs to make root and branch improvements to its services and processes.

"Where necessary, we have demanded improvements.

"Where we have had immediate concerns about people's safety we have taken action. In the case of Winterbourne View we took action which led to its closure.

"Although our reports set out what Castlebeck and individual services need to do, there is a lesson here for all professionals who have contact with these services and those who commission care from them.

"You have a clear responsibility to stay alert for the signs of problems; take action if you can, and tell us if you have doubts about the safety and quality of care."

Castlebeck has 23 sites - 11 independent mental health hospitals and 12 adult social care centres.

The four raising serious concerns are: Arden Vale in Solihull, Cedar Vale in Nottingham, Croxton Lodge in Melton Mowbray, and Rose Villa.

The seven non-compliant sites are: Acrefield House in Wirral, Briar Court Nursing Home in Hartlepool, Chesterholme in Hexham, The East Midlands Centre for Neurobehavioural Rehabilitation in Melton Mowbray, Hollyhurst in Darlington, Oaklands in Hexham and Willow House in Edgbaston.

The regulator, which has told Castlebeck to show how it will improve, identified company-wide themes including: lack of staff training, inadequate staffing levels, poor care planning, failure to notify relevant authorities of safeguarding incidents and failure to involve people in decisions about their own care.

The scandal surrounding Winterbourne View unfolded because of a BBC Panorama investigation and whistleblower Terry Bryan, a senior nurse.

Mrs Bower applauded them saying: "I would like to put on record thanks to the BBC's Panorama programme and Terry Bryan, whose concerns about Winterbourne View led to the documentary.

"Their exposure of abuse at Winterbourne View has led to this close examination of services for people with learning disabilities."

The CQC is following up its Castlebeck inquiry with a major review of learning disability services.

"We will carry out unannounced inspections of 150 of these services," said Mrs Bower.

Castlebeck chief executive Lee Reed said the company identified the areas for improvement when he took the job in January.

They then spent several months on "the subject of internal reviews and recommendations".

He said: "The safety and wellbeing of people in our care will always be of paramount importance to us and we will have a zero tolerance policy towards inappropriate behaviour directed against those who use our services.

"We remain deeply sorry for all that happened at Winterbourne View and also apologise for any incidents where our services have in the past not met the high standards that we, those we support and their families, expect and deserve.

"There is no place within our organisation for services that fail to deliver high quality care."

The company said it commissioned a full review of all its services by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the findings and recommendations will be implemented in full.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, the charity working for people with learning disabilities, said the CQC report demonstrated "how for too long people with a learning disability, and others with complex needs, have been left to languish in hospitals like Winterbourne View".

He added: "These types of facilities do not provide adequate care and they have been used by the authorities as a dumping ground for more vulnerable adults.

"These hospitals should only be used when they are really needed for assessment and treatment. For most people, smaller, local services, which are built around the needs of the individual, are more suitable.

"The involvement of families in the planning and running of these services is crucial, and those who receive the services must also have their say.

"Commissioners and local authorities must also ensure they check that the vulnerable individuals in their care, who have complex and challenging needs, are given individual and appropriate support."

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said Castlebeck had a responsibility to deliver good quality care for patients.

He told the BBC news channel: "The trouble with this set of facilities seems too much to have been about palming these individuals off into unsatisfactory care and that is never acceptable. That's now been revealed and as a Government we intend to ensure that that doesn't happen again."

He added: "What we're now doing is working with the local councils and the local NHS who have arranged these placements into these facilities to make sure that they're now taking the necessary steps to assure us that they are safeguarding the welfare of people living in these institutions, and also reassuring relatives as well that safety and welfare and quality are the key considerations."

Trade union Unison called on the Government to ensure there was adequate funding for rigorous annual inspections of care homes.

Helga Pile, the union's head of social care, said: "Inspectors and regulators cannot expose failures when they are struggling with staff numbers and resources.

"Elderly care is a service where mandatory regulation is vital to protect their interests.

"The privatised model means that the time carers can spend with each person is minimal, forcing corners to be cut, and employers see basic training as an expensive luxury.

"It is not right to try to get elderly care on the cheap.

"The Government review must lead to a properly-resourced regulation and inspection system and tougher standards on workforce training and support."