The sector has responded with outrage following BBC's Panorama documentary last night which showed shocking abuse of people with learning disabilities and autism at Whorlton Hall in County Durham.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has released a statement apologising for missing the signs. Dr Paul Lelliott, Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals (lead for mental health), at the Care Quality Commission, said, 'When we last inspected Whorlton Hall in March 2018, we did so as a result of whistleblowing concerns. 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. The patients we spoke to during this inspection told us they felt safe and had not experienced aggression towards them. We also spoke to health care professionals who had formal caring roles for patients at the hospital, but who were independent to the hospital; they did not raise any concerns. 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.
'We will urgently explore ways in which we can better assess the experience of care of people who may have impaired capacity, or even be fearful to talk about how they are being treated because of the way that staff have behaved towards them. 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.'
The Department of Health and Social Care has reportedly told BBC that it treats allegations of abuse 'with the "utmost seriousness", but could not comment any further because of the police investigation.'
A joint statement by Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), Learning Disability England, Shared Lives Plus and Association of Mental Health Providers following the BBC Panorama programme states, 'The BBC Panorama programme, Undercover hospital abuse scandal, is heartbreaking to watch. But there are sadly no surprises here. People’s misery and untimely deaths have been met with reviews rather than radical change. Long-stay institutions for people with learning disabilities, autism and mental ill health should have closed decades ago yet successive governments have not acted.
'A failure in the "market" where these services operate means that secure hospitals are keeping people locked up for years. Some are places where abuse is too easy. These environments cannot offer an ordinary life to people who need support to live their lives. The ongoing commissioning of secure inpatient provision is a national scandal that must be brought to a halt.
'High quality voluntary sector organisations offer an alternative. Family and carer groups, self-advocacy and advocacy organisations through to specialist community providers are just some of the many solutions that are available. It is a sad fact that these organisations have been under-utilised to support policies to de-commission long-stay institutions. It is also unacceptable that vast sums of public money are being paid to run services to offer nothing more than suboptimal and outdated care which is directly harming people.
'Government must address these issues as a national priority. NHS England, local NHS organisations and councils have a duty to lead this. We believe they must:
- Make themselves accountable to people with learning disabilities, autism and mental ill health, and their families, by creating formal relationships with local user-led and carers organisations and advocacy services.
- Ensure everyone using long-term NHS care can access a personal health budget and an independent advocate to help them find and use new forms of community support to help them get out of hospital.
- Work with high quality voluntary and community sector providers to redesign care around the person with a clear expectation that everyone can live a good life in the community.
'Our organisations remain committed to working across the system so that plans to reduce, and ultimately, eliminate inappropriate secure services become reality. People who require support to live their lives deserve nothing less.'
An ex-CQC inspector has also spoken out, reporting on social media that he allegedly inspected the service three years ago, 'Three years ago when I worked for CQC I inspected [Whorlton Hall] and raised significant concerns! Internally the report was deleted and never published. I whistleblew and an internal investigation found my report should have been published and recommended so. It never was! These poor people have been let down significantly and CQC knew about this because I wrote the report and raised concerns to the highest level possible and nothing was done...I can’t express how angry I feel'.
Dr Paul Lelliott goes on to say, 'Working with the local authority and NHS England we have acted urgently to protect the people living at Whorlton Hall. Sixteen members of permanent staff were immediately suspended and CQC inspectors, NHS England, a safeguarding team from the local authority and clinical staff from the local NHS mental health trust have all been on-site to ensure that people are safe.'
Professor Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England has also responded to the BBC Panorama programme, saying, 'The findings of this undercover programme are utterly shocking. The behaviour of the staff is utterly deplorable and frankly totally inexplicable.
'It is unacceptable that eight years after Winterbourne View abuse has not been stamped out. Care England wants to work with the health and care system to see more people cared for in local communities. It is essential that commissioners, the regulator and providers of care homes, supported living and other housing settings work together to increase community capacity for people currently in hospitals. This is a process that should be led by, and reflect the needs and ambitions of, people with learning disabilities and their families.'