Published: 22:00, 04 April 2016
A damning report into Westgate College for Deaf People has revealed what inspectors have described as “shocking examples of institutionalised failings and abuse".
One of the most damaging findings was that in some cases carers at the residential centre were physically harming those they were looking after - in response, South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has urged victims to contact the police.
The report makes for devastating reading and catalogues a series of failings that indicate serious shortcomings in the safeguarding of vulnerable young adults with learning difficulties and deafness over a period of two years.
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The CQC says allegations it received included an incident in which a resident had a hot cup of tea placed on their arm and was then goaded by a staff member.
This became the subject of a police investigation.
A separate allegation was made that a staff member had grabbed a resident around the neck and pushed their head down.
Westgate College was the post-16 department of The Royal School for Deaf Children Margate, intended to provide care for young people aged 19 to 22 who are deaf or have associated communication difficulties.
The John Townsend Trust that ran the college was placed in administration last year.
The publication of the CQC’s report reveals for the first time that financial difficulties were not the sole reason steps were taken to intervene.
The CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care, Andrea Sutcliffe, said: “What we saw at Westgate College for Deaf People and the Road Project – 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.”
The CQC first took action in October 2014, when it made clear to the trust that it was not meeting the needs of the people in its care.
That followed an unannounced inspection when the commission responded to safeguarding alerts.
During this inspection, theCQC said inspectors found “evidence of abuse, including services being withdrawn from people to punish them for exhibiting challenging behaviours".
It was reported that, when a resident ripped their T-shirt, a member of staff hit the resident while reprimanding them for their behaviour and telling them that their activities would be withdrawn.
As a result, four staff members were suspended and subsequently dismissed after admitting to poor practice and abuse.
The police investigated but the Crown Prosecution Service concluded there was not enough evidence to bring charges against the staff.
While there was initially some improvement, the CQC said that “it became increasingly clear that its leadership was incapable of sustaining this improvement and providing safe, effective and compassionate care".
A month later, in November 2014, the CQC made another unannounced inspection and found again evidence of abuse - including residents being ridiculed for their physical and learning disabilities.
Mrs Sutcliffe said: “The culture in the service was one of staff being in control and people being contained.
"Staff felt that since they were in charge, people using the service would have to fit in with what the staff wanted rather than people having a say and developing the support they needed to lead fulfilling, meaningful lives.”
She added that she could understand how distressing the closure was for the former residents and their families.
“I hope they can now see that their safety and wellbeing were what drove our actions at all times.”
A further inspection in November last year found continuing evidence of poor care.
Vulnerable residents not being supervised in a swimming pool which was open to the public and had no lifeguard on duty
Serious medication errors that were not reported to the CQC including a person being given too much insulin and a person given a double dose of sedative
Staff who had no understanding of fundamental safeguarding procedures and when concerns should be escalated to the local authority.
Mrs Sutcliffe said: “I am sorry for the impact this had on the lives of the young people there and their families. They, and CQC, should never have been put into this position.”
The commission had concluded that it had no choice but to step in because of the poor care and abuse.
The South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said: “These allegations are simply horrifying. Residents were abused by the people they trusted the most. It was wrong and without excuse.
"These actions have hurt not only residents but other innocent hard-working staff at the trust. The government has beefed-up the CQC to ensure such malpractice is not ignored.”
He urged anyone who may have suffered abuse to contact the police.
“Other instances of abuse may have occurred which have never been discussed, I would invite anybody affected by this appalling abuse to contact DI John Cooper on 01843 222289 with any information.
"I will be continuing to work with North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale to ensure the remaining residents are transferred to appropriate care without delay.”
The Care Quality Commission has only now been able to release information concerning the college for vulnerable adults in Margate because of a legal tussle with the trust that ran it.
The John Townsend Trust also operated the Royal School for Deaf Children in Margate.
More by this authorPaul Francis
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