Added on Tuesday 20 Nov 2012
Just in case you think the atrocious treatment of learning-disabled patients at Winterbourne View care home was a one-off blip, or that organisations today would never cover up Jimmy Savile’s alleged activities the way they did thirty years ago…
In 2008, the Race Equality Services Review, an analysis by the Health Service Journal of a report about the careers of black and ethnic minorities in the National Health Service (South East Coast region) concluded there was institutionalised racism within the whole NHS.
In 2009, after six learning-disabled patients died in the care of the NHS, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report Six lives: the provision of public services to people with learning disabilities said (among other things) that “fundamental principles were not being upheld … an underlying culture which values human rights was not in place.” Regarding complaint handling, the Ombudsman stated that the families “gave repeated examples of failures to understand their complaints … defensive explanations; a failure to address the heart of the complaint; and a reluctance to offer apologies. Our investigations generally confirmed this picture.” The report concluded by saying, “we are still left with an underlying concern that similar failures to those identified in the investigations will occur again.”
In a 2010 Facebook debate, David Forster, a director of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, admitted they had employed “too many who are lazy, unproductive, obstinate, militant, aggressive at every turn and who couldn’t secure a job anywhere outside the bloated public sector where mediocrity is too often shielded by weak and unprincipled HR policies.”
That perfectly described the people I saw. David Forster was right, and for his honesty he was disciplined by NHS management because, as NHS surgeon Sir Roy Calne stated in the Daily Mail in July 2007:
“…as a result of the justified furore over nurses’ poor pay, the unions have become stronger. Management dare not offend them, which means that when they should be disciplining staff who cut corners on hygiene or who work ineffectively, they instead hide behind the tangle of employment law to avoid confrontation.”
You may think this article is biased but I am an Asperger, I worked in the NHS with a black man who’d come to the UK from Africa, and these public quotes exactly match our private experiences. I was brought to the brink of a nervous breakdown while my black colleague was pushed completely out of work and onto the dole for three years. The NHS even fobbed him off when he asked for a reference, which he has still not received.
We both worked in an office where the staff, as accurately defined by Guardian writer Lynsey Hanley in her book Estates: an intimate history “were warm towards others who looked and acted exactly like them, but unforgiving, going on vicious, with anyone who didn’t.”
For example, I witnessed the way a fellow staff-member talked to my black colleague when this officer thought he'd made a mistake with the stationery.
First, some back story. My grandparents once lived in Africa themselves and had black servants. I neither condone this nor condemn it. It is simply history.
In those days, there was one cast-iron rule in any well-run household: never, ever humiliate a servant, because they could not respond.
Unfortunately, some homes were the fiefdoms of families who had emigrated from poor parts of Britain. In Africa, even poor households could afford black servants, and when people from the backstreets suddenly found themselves able to lord it over others they abused the privilege, ignored the cast-iron rule and treated their servants like slaves.
So this officer marched into the office, goose-stepped up to my colleague, accused him of making a mistake with the stationery (which he had not done), and as he tried to explain, the officer talked over him, talked down to him and waggled a finger under his chin as if he was a dumb six-year-old. All this took place in front of several other people.
He was a man of 48, and much more intelligent than the officer. I was filing notes a few feet away from them. I saw the whole thing, and I’ve never been more ashamed of being British. These people were intolerant of anyone who was in any way unlike them, acted as if they had the God-given right to declaim loudly and endlessly about any subject under the sun, and were unforgiving of anyone who disagreed with them.
People with autism cannot filter out extraneous noise, and the other staff insisted on playing a radio non-stop all day. After a while it became literal torture for me to listen to it, but although I went to NHS management for help, nothing was ever done. I eventually referred myself to Occupational Health and was signed off for six months.
Regarding the behaviour of my fellow members-of-staff, my consultant said that “they have poor educational qualifications” and “they don’t know any better.”
Never before have so many lousy excuses been made by so many (not so few) for so many. Jimmy Savile would have been very safe in today’s NHS.
Again, most people with autism need routines and a daily framework to function without suffering a great deal of stress. I was left hanging for six months and did indeed come close to a nervous breakdown. I was seconded to another post at the last minute.
People with autism also have much higher levels of fear and anxiety than most. In my case I felt like I'd suffered brain damage.
I was left with a shaking right hand, a brain which worked even more slowly than it had before and, on occasion, slurred speech.
Meanwhile my black colleague found another job in another part of the NHS and thought he’d escaped the hellhole he was in, but he’d only swapped the frying pan for the fire. Every single member of staff in the new place was (in his own words) “a malicious bigot.” After five ghastly months, he was in very bad condition and the unendurable strain was spilling over into his family life. Despite several pleas to management, the NHS appeared unwilling to control its own staff and in desperation he finally resigned.
He and I have good reason to believe that the NHS is indeed institutionally racist, and not a fit and proper employer of either the learning-disabled or of people from black or ethnic minority backgrounds.
The NHS is supposed to be the caring profession, but he and I no longer think they care.
“I have seen corruption, violence and injustice in Africa; but neither my wife nor myself had ever witnessed such utterly disgusting and xenophobic behaviour from people until I came to work for the NHS.”
Such behaviour and such cover-ups are not a blip. Like it or not, the scandals of Winterbourne View and its ilk are only the tip of the iceberg…