Somerset

Highbridge's Mendip House staff 'engaged in cruel behaviour'

Mendip House
Image caption Mendip House is within the grounds of Somerset Court and housed six people with autism and complex needs

Autistic residents were subjected to "cruel behaviour", bullying and humiliation at a care home in Somerset, a safeguarding report has found.

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.

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, which had six residents, closed on 31 October 2016 - five months after whistleblowers contacted the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and safeguarding teams.

'Threw cake'

The review, 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 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.

Image caption The home was run by The National Autistic Society which has apologised

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".

'Cruel behaviour'

The review noted that parallels had been drawn with the Winterbourne View abuse revealed by BBC Panorama, "albeit without the cameras".

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.

Image caption Parallels had been drawn with the Winterbourne View abuse revealed by BBC Panorama

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".

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