Serious incident investigation
In 2011, the Devon and Cornwall Police launched an investigation into alleged abuse at several care homes across Devon, which had been run by Atlas Projects Ltd for people with learning disabilities. Looking into serious incidents, this investigation in October 2013, the police commissioned Verita to review the care provided to residents at several of the homes owned by Atlas, and to provide expert advice in terms of standards of care for people with learning disabilities.
Verita reviewed an extensive range of care records, guidelines and protocols that had been produced in 2010-11 and analysed these against minimum standards. A number of written reports were produced by Verita during 2013 – 2016, all of which described a shocking and punitive culture that prevailed at both Veilstone and Gatooma care homes. In addition, Verita provided expert advice for police interviews, as well as for each of the court trials held during 2015 and 2016.
The court heard how residents had been repeatedly and systematically detained in rooms that had no heating, and little or no furniture or toilet facilities, sometimes for several hours at a time – or even overnight. Four company directors and nine employees were sentenced in relation to the abuse of residents at two of the Atlas care homes in Devon; details of sentencing can be found at http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/latest_news/thirteen-sentenced-over-care-home-a/index.html & https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/07/care-home-directors-convicted-over-devon-learning-disability-regime. This case has been ground-breaking in that the directors and managers of the homes – not just the direct care staff that implemented the policies – have been held to account. The reporting restrictions were lifted by the court on 7 June 2017.
The stress and pain that individuals and their families have endured has been considerable. Atlas Project Ltd was established to provide specialist services for their clientele at a cost of £4,000 per week per person, and they failed to deliver an appropriate model of care for those with complex needs, leaving individuals subjected to systematic abuse over a two-year period. Commissioning, and the inspection of services for people with learning disabilities, need to be strengthened to ensure that abusive cultures cannot develop or be sustained.