Liberal Democrat MP and former care services minister Paul Burstow has spoken out against negligent care providers, saying that in future they should face corporate legal sanctions if they fail in their duty of care to residents.
Mr Burstow was speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday morning after it was revealed that 19 of 51 former patients moved from a negligent care home in Bristol have been flagged again for safeguarding issues.
The Winterbourne View care home in Bristol was engulfed in national controversy after a BBC Panorama investigation revealed shocking abuses of patients with learning difficulties recorded on hidden cameras.
The programme highlighted sickening abuse, including hitting, unorthodox restraint, hair pulling and examples of patients' mouths being held open whilst medication was forced down their throats. In another chilling episode, a female patient was showered fully clothed and then had mouthwash poured into her eyes.
Abuse at the home got so bad that one patient attempted to throw themselves from a second floor window. When their attempt failed staff mocked them.
The abuses sparked criminal investigations, which resulted in the prosecution of 11 members of staff, who were jailed last week in sentences ranging from two and a half years to six months.
Mr Burstow highlighted the fact that the home's owners, Castlebeck, were charging some £3,500 per week per resident for the care services they provided, and believes that in future such companies should face corporate legal sanctions for their failings.
"(The Government) needs to make sure that the companies that take the money - if they fail, and in this case they more than failed, they really abused people - then they need to be held corporately accountable, as well as the staff who stood in the dock last week" he said.
At the moment, companies can only be charged for neglect in cases where someone they owed a duty of care to dies. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 brought in this criminal offence.
The Act came into force in April 2008, and was instigated in response to public outcries following disasters that were later shown to be the result of corporate negligence.
The first successful prosecution under the Act came last February when Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings were successfully charged with manslaughter over the death of geologist Alexander Wright. The company was fined £385,000 after the judge found that their approach was irresponsible and dangerous.
A new crime of corporate willful negligence?
In the case of Castlebeck and the Winterbourne View home, Mr Burtow believes that a new offence of corporate willful neglect could help by imposing serious financial penalties on companies who profit from the abuse of those they own a duty of care towards.
"We have corporate manslaughter on the statute book. I think there is now a case for corporate wilful neglect as well" he told the Today programme.