The insistence on an 'arm's length' inspection process is double-edged in that establishments such as Stoke Green House need close contact with other professionals who can both scrutinise and influence practice. The fact that action could not be taken on the basis of the evidence presented testifies to fundamental problems in the legislative framework within which inspectors and tribunals work.
Tribunals operate without the discipline of case law or precedent, and are confused about the level of proof required to justify taking action. Where judgments have to be made, they seem weighted to protect the business interests of proprietors, not the civil rights of vulnerable adults.
The Buckinghamshire case demonstrates that, despite the rhetoric, managing from a distance through contracts and inspection provides weak safeguards to vulnerable adults. Following a three-year research programme funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, we are becoming convinced that a stronger framework needs to be set up, preferably with the force of law. This would see the establishment of an Adult Protection Service, and the mandating of all workers and carers to report concerns about the abuse of vulnerable adults, in parallel to the way child-protection procedures mandate the sharing of information in the interests of children at risk.
People with learning disabilities need protection because they need services and an unfortunate by-product of services is that it places people in positions of power that have the potential to be misused. Alongside the spectre of people with learning disabilities being abused, manipulated and exploited, we hear also of people with mental health problems being abused in the context of therapy, and elderly people being neglected and undernourished.
Meanwhile, public money goes into the pockets of 'proprietors', whose sense of propriety has been drowned out by the values of the so-called marketplace. If anything good can come out of such horror let it be a national commitment to all vulnerable adults that protection from abuse will be an explicit and standing item on the agenda of all community care services.
JUNE B. STEIN
University of Kent