Another week, and another story about poor care standards – this time an exposé on the BBC’s Panorama of appalling patient abuse by nursing and care staff in Winterbourne View, a specialist private hospital for adults with learning disabilities. And rightly, bodies including the Nursing & Midwifery Council, Royal College of Nursing and Care Quality Commission have denounced the ill treatment of vulnerable adults that the programme highlighted.
There are questions to answer – not least why the CQC did not act sooner on the tip off by whistle blowing nurse Terry Bryan, or why the local authority was not more closely monitoring the standards of care in a private facility that they largely funded.
But the sad reality is that this is but the latest of a series of news stories and reports highlighting how poorly we care for most vulnerable citizens – particularly the elderly and disabled. Our legal structures, funding priorities, care and nursing staff training and practice all seem to be under criticism for failing to deliver the care and support that is needed.
Not all of that poor care is as abusive as that caught on film by the Panorama film crew. Most, instead seems to be a systemic failing in our health and care services, and cannot be laid solely at the feet of often over stretched nursing and care staff.
One cannot help questioning if the cause runs deeper – to a culture and society so focused on youth, success and personal autonomy that the notion of care and mutual dependency, especially at times in our lives when we are at our most vulnerable, means that we farm care out to companies motivated by profit, and remove the messiness of care for the frail and severely disabled from family and wider society. Out of sight, out of mind.
When nurses are now being taught compassion as part of their basic training and assessed on how compassionate their care actually is, many will ask what this says about our values as a society. But care and compassion are not innate human responses, they are learnt virtues and values – and if as a wider culture we have been failing to teach them to successive generations, is it any wonder that we now need to teach them to our nurses and care staff?
We can only hope that the example of Winterborne View will lead to closer scrutiny of such facilities by the CQC and local health and social services in future, and that such cases of abuse remain the exception rather than the rule.