The British Medical Association (BMA) has issued new guidance for doctors regarding the treatment of vulnerable patients, stating that healthcare professionals have a duty to flag up any suggestion of abuse. It also explains the procedures if they suspect that physical and mental abuse of vulnerable adults by NHS staff or carers is being covered up.
The Guidance was commissioned by the Department of Health, and highlights the legislation in place to protect people if they choose to speak out about possible neglect. Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, noted that the guidance is there to support doctors and understand which adults have the capacity to protect their own interests. “The way doctors deal with these possible situations demonstrates how complex caring for vulnerable adults can be. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” he added.
GPs should be alert to identifying abusers, spotting systemic healthcare failures and recognising signs of neglect, ranging from physical and mental abuse to financial exploitation. Whistle-blowing may involve providing information to the media or MPs. and the individual is protected as long as it is reasonable, not made for gain and meets the following conditions:
- Whistle-blowers reasonably believe they would be victimised if they raised the matter internally or with a prescribed regulator
- They believe a cover-up is likely and there is no prescribed regulator
- They have already raised the matter internally or with a prescribed regulator.’
A poll of 290 GPs, carried out by Pulse in July 2011, found that 41% believe one or more of their patients has been subjected to abuse.
The scandal of vulnerable adults being abused at Winterbourne House highlights safeguarding gaps following the Panorama expose. The National Autistic Society (NAS) has submitted a 10,000 strong petition to Parliament asking for urgent action to address the failings in the current system of inspection of adult care services. John Pugh, MP for Stockport and Co. Chair of the Liberal Democrat Committee on Health and Social Care, presented the petition calling upon the Government to review the inspection process for vulnerable adults living in residential care. It asks for the following points to be addressed:
- All organisations must create working cultures where abuse is unacceptable and clear polices and procedures are in place to report abuse and wrongdoing.
- It is vital that individuals working in adult social care have the right attitude to work with vulnerable adults and that they are trained in safeguarding and managing challenging behaviour
- Robust and rigorous recruitment procedures are essential.
- Specific on-the-job training should be regularly assessed and refreshed.
- Staff must have relevant and specific knowledge of the disabilities they are dealing with to help support individuals appropriately.
Commenting, Carol Povey, Director of NAS Centre for Autism, said: “It is completely unacceptable that any form of abuse by support staff takes place in any care service. It is deeply distressing that these vulnerable adults have been treated so diabolically and the strength of support for urgent action is palpable. In less than two weeks the NAS received over 10,000 signatures to the petition.
31 May – BBC Panorama’s Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed The BBC filmed abuse of patients with learning difficulties at Winterbourne View residential hospital in Bristol. During five weeks spent filming undercover, BBC Panorama’s reporter captured footage of some of the hospital’s most vulnerable patients being repeatedly pinned down, slapped, dragged into showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased.
The case has been condemned as “shocking” by the government and Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said he was determined to strengthen safeguards for vulnerable adults. He has already ordered a thorough examination of the roles of the government regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and the local authorities. CQC chairman Dame Jo Williams admitted that the failure to follow up the reports of a whistleblower – a senior nurse at the home – had been an “unforgivable error of judgement”. Avon and Somerset police confirmed three men – aged 42, 30 and 25 – and a 24-year-old woman were arrested as part of their investigation into the hospital. The hospital’s owners, Castlebeck, have apologised and suspended 13 employees. It has launched an internal investigation into its whistle-blower procedures and is reviewing the records of all 580 patients in 56 facilities. Winterbourne View can accommodate 24 patients and is taxpayer-funded, charging the state an average of £3,500 per patient per week.
The programme was broadcast on BBC One on Tuesday 31 May at 2100 BST and is available to view in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.