Young people with disabilities were subject to “shocking institutionalised failings and abuse” at a now-closed residential college for the deaf in Kent, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has said.
The Westgate College for Deaf People and the Road Project in Margate was shut down by the watchdog in November 2015 after residents were found to be experiencing serious harm.
The chief inspector for adult social care Andrea Sutcliffe said the provider had ‘seriously let down’ the people in its care, despite being given every opportunity to improve.
The CQC was first alerted to safeguarding concerns at the service in 2014. The college provided accommodation and care for people with hearing, learning and physical disabilities.
An unannounced inspection on 2 October 2014 found evidence of abuse, including support services being withdrawn from residents to punish them for exhibiting challenging behaviours.
Four staff members were suspended and subsequently dismissed after admitting to abuse, but a police investigation concluded there was not enough evidence to bring charges.
The watchdog carried out another inspection in November 2014, which found the provider had taken little action to improve. Inspectors detected further evidence of abuse, including examples of residents being ridiculed for their physical and learning disabilities.
The CQC served the provider, the John Townsend Trust, with a notice of proposal on 2 December 2014 to prevent it from providing regulated activities at the college.
This “longer route” to cancel or amend the provider’s registration was taken to allow the local agencies involved enough time to find alternative placements for the 52 residents, many of whom had complex and profound disabilities, the CQC said.
In May 2015, a further inspection found some improvements had been made, but in July 2015 the watchdog was again alerted to a number of serious safeguarding concerns.
The provider had failed to make the CQC aware of these concerns, which included one resident having a cup of hot tea placed on their arm.
This became the subject of a police investigation.
At an inspection on 5 November 2015, inspectors found further failings. These included vulnerable residents not being supervised in a swimming pool and a series of medication errors. One resident had been given too much insulin, but this had not been reported.
The CQC met with the John Townsend Trust to discuss the findings, but senior managers refused to accept the feedback or agree with the extent of the concerns.
The ‘Westgate College for Deaf People and the Road Project’ was removed from the trust’s registration on 19 November 2015. Residents were moved the following day.
The provider’s appeal against the decision was struck out by the first-tier tribunal in February this year. The CQC was not able to disclose its findings until this process was complete.
Sutcliffe said: “What we saw at Westgate College – and what was reported to us – were shocking examples of institutionalised failings and abuse. Residents were physically harmed by the very people who should have been caring for them, and the leadership within the John Townsend Trust did not take sufficient steps to prevent this, or to tackle a culture where people in vulnerable circumstances were not protected.
“We eventually concluded that the care at the college was so poor that it was essential to use our enforcement powers to the full so that people could be protected from harm given that its leadership was incapable of making the rapid and substantial changes required.
“I am sorry for the impact this had on the lives of the young people there and their families. They, and the CQC, should never have been put in this position.”
Dan Scorer, head of policy at the learning disability charity Mencap, said the findings were a shocking example of how people with a learning disability and their families are being failed by the system.
“How many more scandals will it take before people with a learning disability get the right care?” he said. “These failings should never have been allowed to happen. We must find out immediately the role that all agencies played and whether the failings at this service could have been identified, act on earlier and stopped.”