On Friday, 11 support workers and nurses were sentenced for their part in the horrific crimes which took place at Winterbourne View hospital. It was clear, however, from both the statement made by the judge and by the relatives of those who suffered at Winterbourne, that no one expects this to bring closure on the Winterbourne situation and that indeed, as the scheduling of the second Panorama documentary tonight suggests, that there is still much more to be revealed. We are left asking, therefore, will we ever know what really happened at Winterbourne View and why?
The prosecution for the case concluded that “the offences were motivated by hostility towards the victims based on their disabilities”. The judge suggested that the ill-treatment experienced by people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne went much deeper than the actions of the 11 individuals found guilty of the crimes, describing the treatment centre as having a “culture of cruelty” where “no attempt was made to provide a caring environment” and where there was “a scandalous lack of regard to the interests of its residents and staff.”
Organisational culture has a huge role to play in how care and support is provided. In a truly person-centred organisation, person-centred and individual approaches are built into every aspect of service delivery. Support is built around the needs and wishes of each person using the service, informed by those who are important to them such as family and friends. Crucially, staff not only have a clear understanding of their role but are in turn valued and supported to carry it out. This understanding creates a consistency of approach and a consistency of expectation. Alongside this, robust mechanisms are in place for people and staff to express when they feel that something is not working and to make sure it can be put right.
Establishing a person-centred approach in an organisation is not a panacea. Things can still go wrong. But the likelihood of a situation reaching the scale that we have seen at Winterbourne View is much smaller, and the opportunity for vulnerable people to live safe and fulfilling lives, much greater.
As the families of those who lived at Winterbourne View highlighted in their statement on Friday, it will take a long time for their loved ones to recover from their experiences, and for some it may never happen. Social care is about people’s lives, and, as such, when things go wrong, there can be very serious consequences. Vulnerable people, like those who lived at Winterbourne View, deserve to have the high quality support that they need to live their lives. Getting the organisational culture right is a key element in making this happen.
Sarah Bartlett, Press Manager