The first time I wrote on these pages as a health minister was when eleven former members of staff at Winterbourne View private hospital were sentenced. The judicial process ran its course and the Government process, too, has now reached a conclusion. On Monday I published our response to the shocking abuse that took place at Winterbourne View and the systemic weaknesses that allowed it to happen. Most importantly, I have set out what we are doing in Government to prevent it happening again.
Holding directors to account
Despite the convictions for some frontline staff, Winterbourne View showed the difficulty of holding leaders of care organisations to account. Paul Burstow has highlighted this gap on a number of occasions, including at PMQs last week. This is a gap in the regulation that we will tackle, including by exploring whether we should develop a ‘fit and proper persons’ test for Directors to oversee care, just as happens in other sectors.
Providing care in the most appropriate setting
Patients are staying too long in hospitals that are too far away from their own communities, from family and friends. It is totally unacceptable that there are many people effectively living in hospital when we know that most could live, with support, in their own communities. Winterbourne View patients had been referred by commissioners up to 200 miles away and some had been there for more than three years. This is unacceptable. We will review all current placements to make sure that in future people are cared for in the most appropriate setting for their needs.
Strengthening inspections and regulation
The Care Quality Commission is going to strengthen its inspections and regulation of hospitals and care homes for people with learning disabilities or autism. Crucially, this will include unannounced inspections involving people who use services and their families, as well as checking whether providers are following the established best practice.
Working with local government
Local government clearly has a key role to play in all of this, and we are working closely together with them. The Government is funding a new joint improvement team, led by NHS and local government, to help make these changes happen.
Time frame for action
Crucially, the report sets out not just what will happen, but how and when it will happen. You can find a comprehensive timetable for action at the end of the report. The Government, the Local Government Association and the NHS Commissioning Board are all committed to this timetable, while around 50 organisations have signed up to making specific commitments.
We promised a thorough investigation and a strong response to the appalling abuse at Winterbourne View. That is exactly what we have published today. I will be monitoring progress personally to make sure we deliver on these commitments to improve care and prevent such abuse happening again in future.
* Norman Lamb MP is Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health