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I’m writing my blog a day earlier than usual to give you my perspective on the Panorama programme that aired last night on the BBC.

To say that I was shocked wouldn’t be accurate. Unfortunately I could see it coming.

In November 2014, Sir Stephen published his report – Winterbourne View – Time for Change – that said many people were being kept in hospitals far from home for far too long.

He was then asked by NHS England to examine how to address ‘serious shortcomings’ in the support for those with learning disabilities.

He made 10 recommendations, including closing large ‘inappropriate in-patient facilities’ in favour of care services for people in their own community and the introduction of a legal charter of rights for them and their families.

Central government failed to act. On top of that, over the same time period it has systematically reduced local authorities’ funding for social care and health, purporting a view of austerity.

So here we are in 2019 with exactly the same scandal. People with learning disabilities being tortured and abused. Well done to Panorama for exposing the issue yet again.

On the programme I was struck by a point made by a professor from Birmingham University, who stated that people with significant needs should be part of their local communities, in really busy places. It stops these types of situations occurring.

I thought back to our trust in 2011. Our Governors, at that time, took the brave and courageous step to set up New Bridge Horizons. We had a really clear objective and vision. We wanted to ensure that ALL our young people had access to an appropriate, quality assured, community-based offer. In our first years we struggled with finances, resources and buildings. At one point it looked as though we would need to close.

The most challenging issue for us was cash flow and affordability! We knew our young people were safer within our organisation and we knew that in comparison with the ‘Winterbournes’ of the world we were a fraction of the cost. It was only the resilience of our staff teams (with the backing of the directors), the support of our families and our absolute belief in community placements that ensured we survived. And survived we did – and moved on – and on – and on.

The point that struck me last night is that that type of residential setting continues to be a ‘get out of jail’ card for too many. Out of sight – out of mind. While places like Winterbourne and Whorlton Hall continue to operate, some local councils and health authority commissioning groups don’t need to make difficult decisions. They don’t need to strategically plan housing, they don’t need to think about volunteering (etc.), they don’t need to empower a workforce, they don’t need to be creative. They do, however, pay the bill – often upwards of £10k per week – and then bury their collective heads in the sand. Bubb had a bold plan. Close them down in favour of community-based services.

Former Care Minister Norman Lamb stated,

The system continues to sanction a model of care that is outdated and wrong. If people are contained in institutions, a long way from home, awful things will happen behind closed doors. Will the secretary of state [Matt Hancock] take personal responsibility to close down institutions providing the wrong model of care. Why does the CQC continue to register new institutions offering inappropriate institutional care?

Last week my blog was entitled ‘That’s how we do it in Oldham.’ This week it’s the same.

Now’s the time to further invest in community placements. We need to ensure our accommodation requirements are fit for purpose. Most of all, we need to uphold our core values and shout them from the rooftops. Every citizen is valued. Local solutions for local people.

Learning together, learning for all, learning for life.


You can find all Graham’s previous blog entries here


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