The recent revelation of maltreatment of people with learning disabilities in an institution in Lechain, Greece shocked the learning disability nursing community.
The 65 residents of the home were a range of ages and disability and many were locked in cages or cells and received little interaction.
Reports of the abuse emerged five years ago when a group of European graduates volunteered at the centre for several months. An investigation by the Greek ombudsman in September 2009 reported:
“Residents were living in inhumane and degrading conditions, which cause them to suffer, without adequate care, psychological support or respect for their human rights”
It was also noted that there was ”[…] an over-use of sedation medication, people being strapped to beds, the use of wooden cage-beds and electronic surveillance.”
Although outrageous, these scenes are reminiscent of the treatment of people with learning disabilities housed in institutions only a few decades ago. Policy implementation and education in the UK has provoked a movement in equality and rights for people with learning disabilities.
Unfortunately the same cannot seemingly be said for Greece; five years on, the bars of the cage have been painted and some soft play facilities added but the prospects for residents remain the same. The director of the institute, Tsoukala was quoted in a BBC interview saying;
“Obviously we shouldn’t have cages here but it is impossible for us to manage without them when we have such low levels of staff. We are doing everything we can but we do not have the resources for anything else”.
Steven Allen, of The Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) - an international human rights organisation for people with mental disabilities, highlights there is no therapeutic value in cages and they are in fact detrimental to physical and psychological health.
Worryingly, this may not be an isolated case. The BBC’s request to visit other institutions in Greece were refused. Efi Bekou, the general secretary of welfare at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in Greece has stated there is movement to close down institutions, but as these are only in discussion no time frame can be given. Due to the economic crisis in Greece restrictions have also been set by its lenders, including a moratorium on hiring new staff; as a result, Efi says, it would be impossible to employ the number of staff needed at the centre.
In 2012, a group of third-year learning disability student nurses, were recruited to strengthen leadership and promote learning disability services. In line with the publication of strengthening the Commitment (Scottish Governement, 2012) the group was named Decide, Commit, Proceed.
Regular discussions, article distribution and service development ideas are shared by the group through social media, as well as topical questions. Inevitably the matter of the institutions in Greece was raised and it was decided that our commitment to learning disability nursing was broader than nation-wide. Following this decision, we decided to commit our time and resources to investigate what could be done.
While we cannot change the economic situation in Greece we can support the workforce and share resources. Initially the group wants to raise awareness of some of the issues in Greece, to explore partnerships with nurses and others working in Greek institutions and either connect with an existing charity or explore setting up our own. Working with charitable status would enable us to fundraise as well as potentially provide opportunities for nurses to visit Greece in order to support the workforce.
Working as a team with our Greek colleagues, it is the aim of the group that behaviour management and communication strategies can be implemented to reduce the need for cages, and promote equality and human rights. This in-turn will increase the physical and psychological welfare of people living in the institutes in Greece. We hope future policy implementation in Greece promotes de-institutionalisation, equality, choice, rights and inclusion for people with learning disabilities, but in the meantime we will certainly promote wellbeing within the client group.
Jemma Victoria Pogson is a registered learning disability nurse