Close institutions now: our reaction at abuses at Whorlton Hall Specialist Hospital

Joint statement by European Disability Forum, Inclusion Europe, Autism Europe and European Down Syndrome Association

It was with sadness and shock, but not surprise, that we learned about the abuses (including physical violence and mental torture) that persons with learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and persons with autism were subjected to at the Whorlton Hall specialist hospital in the United Kingdom.

This kind of treatment and abuse is widespread in institutions. Too many times, we have heard and seen footage like this. Too many times we have witnessed attacks on the most basic human rights of persons with disabilities. Too many times we have witnessed governments failing to act.

Institutionalisation has to end. Forced treatment has to end. These flagrant abuses of the most basic human rights have to end.

Our message to all governments is clear: you are failing at the most basic of your duties if you do not stop this.

The public and governments continue to believe that the problem is the person or their ‘challenging behaviour’. They do not see that the inappropriate service is creating the problem and that there are many, better ways of supporting people. Alex and Simon, two persons with disabilities featuring in the BBC piece exposing the scandal, were seen much happier and thriving when an alternative provision of care was arranged.

Maureen Piggot, Executive Committee Member of EDF and Inclusion Europe Board Member said:

Alex and Simon’s lives are different now. Their horrific experiences are shown to be the product of a failed system in which detention, compulsion and physical restraint are the norm. It is no surprise then that an abusive culture develops, bringing out the worst in those who are there to care. When forced by exposés such as this Panorama programme, better alternatives are provided. What are we waiting for? Replace these shameful institutions.

Pat Clarke, Vice-President of EDF and President of the European Down Syndrome Association stated

People with learning disabilities have been let down badly time and time again. This needs to stop. How many more scandals and needless deaths is it going to take before we begin to treat people with a learning disability with the respect and care that they deserve?

The European Disability Forum strongly condemns any use of institutionalisation and forced treatment and restraint. It is currently campaigning against attempts of the Council of Europe to authorise and regulate some forms of forced treatment and restraint. Involuntary treatment and placement are never care. Lastly, we want to thank the team of BBC Panorama, and especially its undercover reporter, Olivia Davies, for bringing to light the abuses.