Workmen board up the windows at Whorlton Hall, which was closed amid allegations of physical and psychological abuse of vulnerable patients.
Workmen board up the windows at Whorlton Hall, which was closed amid allegations of physical and psychological abuse of vulnerable patients.

THE government's care watchdog has apologised for “missing what was really going on at Whorlton Hall” even after receiving whistleblowers' concerns.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has described footage captured at Whorlton Hall by the BBC's Panorama programme as showing “sickening abuse of vulnerable people”.

The episode of Panorama, titled Undercover Hospital Abuse Scandal, which will be aired tonight on BBC One at 9pm.

Police are currently conducting a criminal investigation into physical and psychological abuse at the facility.

Dr Paul Lelliott, the CQC's deputy chief inspector of hospitals, said the hospital was last inspected in March 2018 following whistleblowing concerns.

He added: “Our inspectors identified concerns around staffing – staff sometimes worked 24-hour shifts, agency staff were not receiving appropriate training, and not all staff were receiving individual supervision. We found the provider in breach of regulations and told them to address these issues.

“It is clear now that we missed what was really going on at Whorlton Hall, and we are sorry.”

Dr Lelliott said patients spoken to during the inspection had told the CQC they felt safe and had not experienced aggression towards them. Health care professionals who attended to patients but were independent of the hospital also did not raise concerns either, he said.

He added: “This illustrates how difficult it is to get under the skin of this type of ‘closed culture’ where people are placed for long periods of time in care settings far away from their communities, weakening their support networks and making it more difficult for their families to visit them and to spot problems.

“When you add staff who are deliberately concealing abusive behaviour, it has the potential to create a toxic environment.”

Since then 16 staff members have been suspended by Cygnet Health, which took over running the hospital from Danshell Group in December last year.

A Cygnet group spokesperson said 12 people were being cared for at the hospital over the past year. They have all been transferred to other hospitals.

The spokesperson added: “ We are shocked and deeply saddened by the allegations made against members of staff at Whorlton Hall.

“We take these allegations extremely seriously. We have suspended all the members of staff involved, simultaneously informed all relevant authorities, including the police, who have now instigated an inquiry and we are cooperating fully with their investigation.”

Dr Lelliott said the CQC will urgently explore ways to assess the care given to those who have impaired capacity or who may be too afraid to talk about how they are being treated.

He added: “We must do all we can to lift this cloak of secrecy. We will also be reviewing what we could have done differently or better that would have meant we were able to identify and stop this abuse more quickly.

“We are sorry that we did not identify the abusive practices at Whorlton Hall – but we do act on concerns from members of the public every day. Over the past three years, we have placed seven hospitals for people with a learning disability and/or autism into special measures, leading to closure in three cases.

“I know that seeing this footage will be particularly shocking for people who have family members who are being cared for in a hospital for people with a learning disability or autism.

“I want to reiterate that most people are getting good care from caring staff. But if families or staff have concerns, they should contact us. ”