Belfast Telegraph

Does anyone care for the truth about care homes?

By Janet Street-Porter

The fallout from the BBC's Panorama programme about torture and bullying at Winterbourne View care home was depressingly predictable. The public, medical experts, social commentators and politicians were shocked and upset.

The images were reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib photos of US soldiers maltreating prisoners in Iraq - but this was taking place in a purpose-built new facility in Bristol, where it costs £3,500-a-week to 'care' for mentally challenged patients who have committed no crime. The reaction was immediate: 13 members of staff were suspended and the police launched inquiries into possible illegal behaviour. Distressed relatives removed family members and the head of the private company which ran the facility offered apologies. It's all part of a familiar pattern. Complaints build up, the sick, weak and elderly suffer, until eventually one brave person manages to lob a missile into the mess that is our care system.

Very little has been written about Terry Bryan, the senior nurse who worked at Winterbourne last year. Mr Bryan was so concerned about inappropriate staff behaviour that he complained to his manager. When nothing happened, he wrote to someone higher up the food chain at Castlebeck, the company that runs the facility.

If it were not for Mr Bryan's determined campaign, poor Simon and Simone would still be lying on the floor of the residents' day room while staff members poked at their eyes, stood on their legs or tried to throttle them.

Strangely, not one Government minister has seen fit to praise Mr Bryan. The people who run social care in this country are not interested in whistle-blowers.

When patients die in care and relatives complain, they are always promised a review, which generally means that a report will be concocted, but not one member of staff will be sacked. You might wonder why more staff don't speak out more often. The answer is simple: being a whistle-blower in the care industry brings you nothing but grief.

Terry Bryan's story would have been familiar to Margaret Haywood - a nurse with 20 years' experience. In 2005, shocked by the treatment of elderly patients, she agreed to secretly film conditions at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton - also for BBC's Panorama. Patients with terminal cancer were in terrible pain because drugs weren't being properly administered, the wards were filthy and the staff were eating in the kitchen while the patients went hungry.

Was Mrs Haywood appointed OBE, praised by the PM, or thanked for lifting the veil on shocking abuse? No. She was sacked for misconduct and faced a tribunal, accused of breaching patient confidentiality by filming without their permission. She was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

After a long campaign and a petition, Mrs Haywood was reinstated on the nursing register in 2009 and given a caution.

The Royal College of Nursing conducted a poll and found that two-thirds of its members who reported concerns over patient safety were worried about being bullied or sacked.

The Department of Health says that whistle-blowers are protected by law, and the NHS has a contract with the charity Public Concern at Work, which runs a helpline staffed by lawyers. But evidence suggests that whistle-blowers risk their health, their reputation and their livelihood.

In the meantime, the relevant NHS bosses, the head of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the regional director for the Bristol area are all still in their jobs, on full pay and nice pensions.

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