Who cares? BBC and ITV exposes a culture of indifference to the most vulnerable in our society……

As the abused patients of Winterbourne View hit the headlines again, with Panorama (BBC, 29th Oct 2012) claiming some have been subjected to abuse in their new home, and programme after programme highlighting the poor standards of care older people receive, is’nt it time for all of us to do more than be ‘shocked’ and ‘horrified’?

ITV presented another programme  (Exposure, 24th Oct) outlining the poor standards of care some older people receive, along with  problems in regulation. What a dismal vision of how we care for older people in this country.  However, its not just older people the care system is failing. On Monday (29th Oct 2102) Panorama will expose the further abuse of those adults who were removed from Winterbourne View, who have now been subjected to abuse in their new home!

At the heart of the problem is a culture of indifference, from not just some of those who care for vulnerable people, but government and wider society.  I left social work 6 years ago for this very reason, it saddens me to find that 6 years on  little appears to have changed.

What is needed to improve the situation across the care sector?  Given this problem is not new this would indicate we need to change our approach. Whilst successive goverments have highlighted the need for better regulation of providers, whether public or private, better training for care staff and a change in culture within organisations we have never moved beyond the rhetoric.  All of these things would make a difference, but not if we just talk about them.

We need better regulation – so regulate, don’t say we will regulate , do it, and do it now so the message is received by providers, government will not tolerate the abuse of older people. CQC has to be resourced adequately, focused, firm and fearless. Part of regulation also involves good commissioning and contract monitoring at a local level following on from CQCs strong lead.

We need a coherent and regulated training strategy for carers and managers of services – at the moment training is piecemeal and of varying quality, neither is it assessed in any coherent way over the long term to establish whether it makes any difference to the quality of care.  Workers can attend training, but nobody ever checks if they have learnt anything or put it into practice.

Change in culture – a harder one to crack, given all the media attention to ‘Savile’ which clearly highlights the role of organisational cultures that allow abuse to occur.  A first step to change any culture requires strong leadership, from the top (Mr Cameron).  Are the right people at the top, are they truly ‘leaders’ or bean counting managers? We need more of the former rather than the latter.

The right people in the workforce – Finally we have to ask are we recruiting the right people into the care sector, whether as carers or managers?  Clearly there are many good carers/managers out there, but we need a lot more, however, this has to be based on suitability not availability.  Caring for people is a demanding, and rewarding job, but, carries little status and is seen as something ‘anyone’ can do.  From my professional experience I’d say the best carers/managers are those who have a deeply ingrained respect for others, and who genuinely like people.  This is not something that can be taught, but they are the characteristics required to develop professional, and caring, managers of services and carers.  Recruitment of the right people is central to turning the system around, however, we will only be able to do that if the most vulnerable, and those charged with providing care, are afforded the respect they deserve from both government and wider society.

Our current system of care provision leave many  people mistreated and without support.  Arguably where government regulation of services are insufficient or weak, a strong philosophical, moral, and ethical framework maybe required to guide the response of society in meeting any responsibility to ensure vulnerable people are not mistreated.  Where both are weak those most vulnerable will continue to suffer.

However, its’ not just about government regulating, we all have a responsibility to try and change things. I wonder do these  revelations  ‘expose’ our indifference also?

 “(F)or a while we may pause to express outrage.  But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives.  Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice… But they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart………….” (Independent.co.uk, 16.02.11)

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About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

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