Two national inspectors have slammed the “widespread lack of understanding” about the rights of people with learning difficulties after uncovering years of institutional abuse, including physical abuse, at a Cornwall NHS trust.
Commission for Social Care Inspection chief inspector David Behan and Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker said that although the abuse found in Cornwall was not happening everywhere, the quality of care around the country was “not always what it should be”.
The joint investigation into learning difficulty services at Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust revealed evidence of staff hitting people, withholding food and an over-reliance on medication to control behaviour.
And the investigation, which centred on Budock Hospital near Falmouth and several other units, said senior trust executives failed to tackle the abuse. Inspectors have recommended the trust be put under special measures.
The Healthcare Commission will now launch a national audit and inspection programme of all NHS and independent learning difficulty service providers and aims to publish its findings next year.
It is also investigating allegations of abuse in Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust (news, page 12, 23 February), while a privately run unit in Norfolk closed down last November following an intervention by the commission.
Rob Greig, the national director for learning disabilities, said the report did not reflect progress on the government’s Valuing People white paper, published in 2001, because services were delivered in Cornwall in a way that ignored it.
He said the Department of Health would make a detailed response to the report following the publication of the Disability Rights Commission’s investigation into health inequalities faced by people with learning difficulties, which is expected in September.
Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust’s new chief executive, Lezli Boswell, who was appointed in May, said the abuse uncovered by the investigation was “inexcusable”.