The recently televised scenes at Whorlton Hall filmed undercover were too upsetting for some of us to watch. Cruelly mocked as the ‘house of mongs’ by a staff member, fear reigned at the private hospital. Eight years after Winterbourne View, it was devastating to realise people with learning disabilities and/or autism are still vulnerable to the vilest forms of abuse. Whorlton Hall is closed, but where else in the UK are people living in secret torment?

Launching our Transforming Care forum two years ago to gather and hear the voices of people in secure care, bemix Director Tina Walker acknowledged that “secure hospitals are sometimes needed to protect people in crisis from themselves and the public.” But she also insisted that “people are being kept in hospital too long. Some may have been neglected or even abused.” Whorlton Hall gives us strong reason to be troubled again about this possibility, even where we live in Kent and Medway.

People with and without learning difficulties in bemix (pictured) are working on questions to ask commissioners of care services. We will work on these with others through the Kent Learning Disability Partnership Board and more widely through our new social movement partners and Learning Disability England.

Our forum raised the concern that when everything a person needs comes from just one provider, the person is effectively being ‘parented’. Typically, accommodation, healthcare, social care and daytime activities are all managed by the same provider. Present day and night, staff hold total power over a vulnerable person’s life, especially when there are no relatives. Inspectors, commissioners and independent advocates are an occasional presence at best. Whether handled with compassion or cruelty, total power is a violation of dignity. When Whorlton Hall has shown we cannot be sure ‘care’ will be caring, this is a grave weakness at the heart of the standard care model.

As a social enterprise, we also have big questions about the profit motive in care. We know private providers locally who are outstanding, but it cannot go unnoticed that Winterbourne View and Whorlton Hall were both owned by large private companies. Is this really just coincidence? Questions must be asked about similar private ownership of care in Kent and Medway. What risk is there that people are kept in hospitals because their care package is profitable? Are any big providers paying Kent and Medway frontline staff rock bottom wages to maximise shareholder value?

People with learning difficulties and their families are also asking about fellow Kent and Medway citizens sent far away to psychiatric hospitals. Given that sudden separation from family intensifies crisis, why could they not be treated locally, and how can we be sure they are safe from abuse and neglect? And to what extent are we accepting people into Kent, uprooted from their London community because the cost of care is cheaper?

Then there’s the Care Quality Commission. With the inadequacy of inspections laid bare by Whorlton Hall, how do our Council and NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups know they are funding safe services that value people?

We know many local commissioners personally and will take these questions to them as friends and partners. We know they care, and do a difficult job serving people under relentless cuts to public spending.

We need fresh resolve for a final end to abuse, neglect and sickening language like ‘house of mongs’. Every person belongs in the community of citizens.