NHS watchdogs accused of 'whitewash' and failing to act on a damning report into hospital that abused its patients

Whorlton Hall in County Durham
Whorlton Hall in County Durham

NHS watchdogs have been accused of a “whitewash” and failing to act on a damning report into a hospital later found on camera to be abusing its patients. 

Last month, police arrested ten staff for suspected offences relating to abuse and neglect after the BBC’s Panorama gained undercover footage that appeared to show vulnerable adults being mistreated at Whorlton Hall in County Durham.

Inspectorate the Care Quality Commission had given it an overall rating of “good” following a visit in 2016.

MPs on Wednesday questioned why watchdogs had failed to publish an earlier report which had found it “requires improvement” instead sending new inspectors, who came to more positive conclusions.

The  unpublished report was handed over to the UK Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, ahead of an inquiry into the detention of young people with learning disabilities and autism.

It contained accusations of bullying, inappropriate staff behaviour and concerns about the use of seclusion and restraint .Planks of wood embedded with nails, broken glass and large rocks were found strewn in the garden, with vulnerable patients left alone for long periods. 

Undercover footage showed a culture of bullying Credit: BBC Panorama

Its lead inspector, Barry Stanley-Wilkinson, subsequently left the watchdog, accusing them of failing to take the concerns seriously.

Addressing CQC’s senior officials, Harriet Harman,  chairwoman of the committee, said: “Looking at the papers that you’ve kindly given us, it certainly seems quite evident to me that you didn’t miss what was going on at Whorlton Hall, that you knew what was going on at Whorlton Hall, arising out of an inspection that was carried out in 2015, four years ago.''

“So actually the surprise that you showed in your interview on Panorama, I can’t square with the papers we’ve got here,” she told Dr Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector at the CQC.

However Dr Lelliott said the 2015 report contained “conflicting statements” about patients view on care, which was why it was not published.

Ms Harman said: “I have to put this to you quite bluntly Dr Lelliott, it looks like there was a diligent inspection in 2015, it looks like they discovered what we then saw to our horror on Panorama on our televisions, it looks like the CQC didn’t publish that 2015 report, it was suppressed. There was a row about it and a strong complaint from the lead inspector and then …. And then a new team was sent in and they produced a report which was a whitewash and which said Whorlton Hall was good.”

“I don’t accept that that is an accurate description of what happened,” Dr Lelliot said.

The CQC has launched an independent review into its handling of the draft report, as well as a wider review looking at regulation of Whorlton Hall.

“The second review I have commissioned is going to look at our entire regulatory history from 2015 to 2019, with the specific intention to look at how our regulatory method actually works,” Mr Trenholm said.

“It is something that concerns us deeply.”

He added: “I think if people are seeking to behave in this way, what we can do is minimise the risk of it happening to the absolute minimum.

“But I don’t think I can honestly, hand on heart, sit here, and promise you it will never happen again.”

Baroness Doreen Lawrence suggested abuse was only taken seriously when it was shown on camera, an accusation which CQC denied.