Took a day out from my usual round to attend the Challenging Attitudes, Changing Lives conference in Manchester and came away with about a fortnight’s-worth of daily blog posts buzzing round in my head – on how people with learning disabilities are mostly admitted into academia only as subjects (veering towards objects), not as contributors; on what it means to be human; on the benefits traps that prevent people from being properly rewarded for making valuable, if intermittent, contributions; on patience and patients; on my new ambition: one day, to sing a duet with the tuneful David from DIY Theatre Company. And a growling rant on the uselessness of the delegated/contracted-out services that, at regular intervals throughout the day, kept me distracted in a three-cornered and ultimately utterly ineffective phone conversation.
I don’t have time this evening to write any of them (boo! hiss!) so instead here are some brief thoughts on some old acquaintances who – mercifully – had very little to do with the day: the Sloves.
Remember how in September 2103, the Care Quality Commission inspected Slade House, the short-term assessment and treatment unit where Connor Sparrowhawk died, and failed it on every single count? And that the reaction of Southern Health was to close the unit? And that it’s entirely unbelievable that this closure was arranged in the interests of the residents/patients? That their needs and interests had never seemed to figure largely in Sloven’s concerns? Instead, it looked like an easy way for Sloven Health to extricate itself from an uncomfortable corner? No unit = no problem, right?
Well, Slade House had a partner unit, called John Sharich House, for medium-term assessment and treatment. It remains open, and was reinspected by the CQC in May 2014. Here’s what the reinspection report had to say:
We spent time observing the daily work of the unit. Although we heard warm personal interactions between staff and patients, we noted little obvious therapeutic activity throughout the day. Staff stayed in the staff room for considerable lengths of time, working on administrative tasks. This surprised us, as this had been an area of rigorous discussion after the previous inspection.
We saw that there were five staff on duty for five patients. The staff told us that four of the five patients being cared for would be discharged soon and arrangements were being made for this. We were able to speak with some patients in John Sharich House, but one patient did not wish to speak with us. We asked them about the assessment, treatment, care and support they received. One person told us it was “okay” and said they were happy being cared for there.
Another patient told us they were not happy to have had their baths stopped. We were surprised to hear that bathing was not allowed for anyone. We asked why this was. We were told this had been a response to a death in the unit last summer when a young man had died in the bath. We asked if this decision had been made with input from all relevant professionals and from the patients it concerned. We were told it had not.
Patients told us that their consent was sought before any care or treatment was commenced. However, it had not been sought regarding the decision on bathing and one patient was able to tell us they were “upset” about this.
When it comes to learning disability, Sloven Health seems to have a learning inability. The blanket ban on baths (though presumably not a ban on blanket baths) so spectacularly misses the point that it reminded me of another frog story, this time from The Bydand Myths. Those of a squeamish disposition may want to stop reading now.
‘The Glaswegian lecturer shouted, “Attend, I am about to prove something of great importance.” He cupped his hands round a frog on his desk. His students craned forward. “Jump!” said the lecturer, taking his hands away, and the frog dutifully sailed through the air. It was retrieved and encompassed once again in the lecturer’s grasp. “Jump!” he said again, and the frog obeyed. The lecturer took out a penknife and cut off the frog’s legs. “Jump!” he ordered. “Jump!” he said again. And finally, “Jump!” “You see,” he told the class, “When you cut off the legs of a frog, he has difficulty hearing.”‘
Frankly, there is no conceivable excuse for Sloven’s deafness. Nor for their – in all senses of the word – dumbness. Even though, in respect of their non-care of Connor, they don’t have a leg to stand on.