Last week we published a set of images taken recently at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. These photos serve as a stark reminder inhumanity makes no differentation between race, creed, culture and lifestyle; the concept starts by labelling Jews, gays, gypsies and political activists as second class and ends by herding these people into gas chambers. And we should remember that the imprisonment, brutalisation and ultimate annihilation of millions of people by the most evil regime in history started with a smaller-scale mass murder experimentation on people with learning and physical disabilities (the first crude gassings were carried out with car exhausts extended into old-style institutions).
The iconic image of the administration block in Birkenau with its infamous railway line is firmly embedded in our consciousness, and we have that image. But I was particularly struck by what might be described as a fairly innocuous image of a row of broken toilets (P9990 on careimages.com) from one of the men’s barracks. It was not a dissimilar image that has remained in my conscience for many years. In 1982, just starting out as a rookie social worker, I went to St Lawrence’s Hospital for adults with learning disabilities in Caterham, Surrey, to visit a client who had been placed there by a local authority many years previously. I was directed to a large ward and when I asked for my client I was taken to a row of toilet cubicles with no doors where my client was sitting down relieving himself. St Lawrence’s has long gone, the ‘patients’ were relocated as part of community care but 1982 is not so long ago.
The term ‘care’ is meaningless in isolation. Only by ensuring that the practice of care is carried out appropriately for the benefit of service users and not service providers (the explanation offered by the nurse in St Lawrence’s was that ‘patients’ had to be monitored at all times), will the image of care improve.