“He was gasping, but forced himself steady, and said solemnly, ‘I have given us our freedom.’
And he paused, aware at last of the gathering weight of the silence. Fourteen images stared at him, without any of them offering a word in response.
Bakst said sharply, ‘You have talked of freedom. You have it!’
Then, uncertainly, he said, ‘Isn’t that what you want?’ “
(The Life and Times of Multivac. Isaac Asimov. 1975)
More rights, it seems, will be going to people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions courtesy of Care Minister Norman Lamb.
And at first glance, you might well say that’s a jolly good thing!
But I’ve a slightly darker view of it. I’ve heard the horror stories of Savile, Stafford, Winterbourne View, Rotherham and more recently Connor Sparrowhawk, who died in the care of Oxford’s NHS on 4th July 2013. I’ve even recounted the horror story of my own treatment by the NHS in the Huffington Post. Over a seven year period, the NHS seemed unable to learn anything from their mistakes, unwilling to control their own staff, and as my father before me found out at Strathclyde Region (once the largest local government region in Scotland, abolished in 1996) and as stated in Dear Miss Landau, sulkily intent on deflecting blame away from themselves and onto me, my father (or any other whistleblower) for everything.
In addition, in an earlier incarnation (before I was unlucky enough to regenerate into my later NHS role like an errant Time Lord), I was a law librarian; and while I could not read everything that passed through my hands (an impossibility on the face of it) I can say with authority there’s already an awful lot of law, rights and legislation out there.
For example, in his work The Political Animal : an anatomy, a pre-bearded Jeremy Paxman pointed out that “the claim that more laws have been passed in Britain since the Second World War than in the entire period between 1066 and 1945 seems entirely believable.”
I also know for a fact that the amount of Current Law Statutes (blue paper releases) that went before Parliament increased by 300% between 1998 and 2004. I know it because I filed those releases and while I could just about fit a year’s worth into one A5 binder in 1998, by 2004 I was using three to four such binders...
While this avalanche was not solely composed of disability rights legislation (employment law and intellectual property were two major growth areas, if I remember rightly), the Disability Discrimination Act, Human Rights Act and Equality Act 2010 (which may be nine inches thick!) are indeed enshrined in law.
So society’s vulnerable (including those with autism) should already be protected and Lamb’s Law will add only a little icing to a great, wonderful, impregnable cake?
Try telling that to the sixty-three people abused by Jimmy Savile at Stoke Mandeville between 1969-1992 and the patients at Stafford who, according to the inquiry, were “let down by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust [between 2005-2009]. There was a lack of care, compassion, humanity and leadership. The most basic standards of care were not observed, and fundamental rights to dignity were not respected. Elderly and vulnerable patients were left unwashed, unfed and without fluids. They were deprived of dignity and respect. Some patients had to relieve themselves in their beds when they offered no help to get to the bathroom. Some were left in excrement stained sheets and beds.”
Then there were the thirty-eight charges of neglect and ill-treatment of patients at Winterbourne View in 2010, the report in 2014 re. Rotherham Council’s child abuse scandal showing that 1,400 young girls had been exploited, and lastly Connor Sparrowhawk’s death in 2013 while supposedly under the “care” of the NHS.
So how come this catalogue of horrors happens so often when it’s so thoroughly been outlawed?
I found a quiet ferment of anger growing within me as I read the usual excuses about failings in the culture of NHS trusts and other care organizations, and relived my own sickening memory of the way an Occupational Health consultant made excuses for the Stafford-style staff I’d encountered by saying, “they don’t know any better.” I’ll also never forget attending a meeting of the Glasgow Disability Alliance some years ago where we all came to the conclusion that the problem was basically attitude. That despite several tons of well-meaning legislation there seems no will or motivation to change the way vulnerable people or workers are treated. That there is only the gathering weight of Asimov’s silence; and while many may pay lip service in theory, very, very few do anything in practise.
Lamb’s Law may sound like a jolly good thing, but in practice it might be as useful as a piece of bling!