Avon and Somerset police have made a series of arrests following the screening of an undercover report by the BBC’s Panorama programme which appears to show abusive treatment of patients with autism and learning disabilities by staff at Winterbourne View Hospital, Bristol.
Over a five week period, Reporter Joe Casey secretly filmed several staff members at the hospital repeatedly subjecting patients to a range of violent and degrading behaviour, including slapping, being pinned to the ground, verbal provocation and ridicule, and being forced into the showers while fully clothed.
The BBC took the decision to film clandestinely following an approach by Terry Bryan, a former nurse at Winterbourne View, who was concerned about the treatment of patients by some of the hospital’s support workers. Previous complaints by Mr Bryan to both the hospital’s management and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) had not been taken up.
Following the broadcast, on 31 May 2011, police arrested four workers at the hospital and the facility’s owners, Castlebeck, apologised and suspended 13 employees. The southwest CQC has also admitted that it “missed an opportunity to prevent abuse” when it failed to investigate Mr Bryan’s original complaints. The Care Services Minister Paul Burstow has asked the CQC to conduct an urgent investigation into what happened at the hospital.
The programme has received a great deal of attention in the media, and events at Winterbourne View have provoked angry responses from many in the learning disabilities community. In an open letter to Mr Burstow, the British Institute of Learning Disabilities pointed to recent investigations into abuse in Sutton and Merton and Cornwall, saying that it is “outraged that such abuse can happen again in a care setting in England”. The letter claims that there are “common failings in health related provision for people with a learning disability, particularly people whose behaviour is seen to challenge services.”