February 8, 2018
Highbridge's Mendip House staff 'engaged in cruel behaviour, bullying'

Autistic residents were subjected to "cruel behaviour", bullying and humiliation at a care home near Burnham-On-Sea, a safeguarding report has revealed this week.

Mendip House staff were said to have made one man crawl on all fours, threw cake at another and used residents' money to buy themselves meals.

A "gang of controlling male staff" had dominated the home, the report said. Five people were eventually dismissed.

Mendip House is within the grounds of Somerset Court on the outskirts of Brent Knoll and Highbridge, and housed six people with autism and complex needs.

The National Autistic Society (NAS), which ran the home, has apologised.

The Safeguarding Adults Review found NAS was "primarily responsible and accountable" for the mistreatment at the home in Highbridge.

The home closed down on 31st October 2016 - five months after whistleblowers contacted the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and safeguarding teams.

The review, which was commissioned by Somerset's Safeguarding Adults Board, says at that point "the scattered knowledge arising from previous incidents was collated and an incubation of failures and harmful practices became apparent."

Among allegations made against staff were that one employee "couldn't be bothered to take people out because of being on the Playstation", others being "unaware" a female resident had absconded and "bullying and disrespectful" behaviour.

Residents were said to have paid for staff meals on days out and almost £10,000 was eventually refunded.

One resident was "known to flinch in the presence of particular employees", another was allegedly made to "crawl around on all fours".

A further claim was made that staff threw cake at one resident's head and "when he requested a biscuit, he was given an onion to eat".

In its conclusions the review said: "The staff at Mendip House engaged in behaviour that was cruel, far below the standard expected."

The residents were described as having "complex needs" and their families had "fought to get a place" for them at an NAS site, because they believed they would get a specialist service.

It emerged that whistleblowers had tried several times to raise concerns about practices at the home dating back to November 2014.

NAS held its own investigations into allegations of abusive conduct without alerting the CQC or local authority.

Whistleblowers would often resign while those accused "were given warnings following disciplinaries and retained or recycled within the service", the report said.

Five people were eventually dismissed - including the manager and deputy - but no prosecutions were brought. The six residents were moved to different facilities when the home closed.

Funding for the home came from Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group and seven different local authorities - an earlier report suggested concerns may have been addressed earlier if fewer authorities had been involved.

The review report recommended changes to the way care placements were managed.

These included making clear that local authorities and clinical commissioning groups must monitor the quality of care of the people for whom they find placements.

The safeguarding board's chairman Richard Crompton said such reviews "are not about apportioning blame, they are about making sure lessons are learned and improvements made".

NAS chief executive Mark Lever repeated the charity's apologies to the six former residents and their families "for the distress they experienced".

He said the charity had responded to concerns and acted "to make sure residents were safe and to investigate what went wrong" and it was committed to "making sure that the lessons are learned".

Stephen Chandler, Director of Adult Services at Somerset County Council, said: "We responded rapidly and robustly to these allegations, coordinated the multi-organisational response, taking steps to ensure the safety of residents in the other homes that made up Somerset Court."

"Social care supports some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. This will have been a traumatic experience for the residents at Mendip House, their families and loved ones."

"It is imperative that everyone involved in the care system does everything they can to make sure they are not put at risk of abuse."

Councillor David Huxtable, Cabinet Member for Adult Services, said: "Cases like this are thankfully rare and these reviews are carried out to reduce the chance of them happening in the future."

"The report makes important recommendations for change that would bring more clarity on the responsibility for placing authorities to monitor the care being provided to the people they place. I hope that the care system well beyond Somerset will learn from the weaknesses that this review has highlighted."

Anyone who is worried about a vulnerable adult should call Adult Social Care on 0300 123 2224. You can read the full report on the SSAB website here.


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