Association of Mental Health Providers

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Response to BBC Panorama on Abuse of Vulnerable Adults

The abuse of vulnerable adults with mental health needs, learning disabilities and autism at a specialist hospital, run by the private healthcare provider Cygnet, in County Durham was uncovered by BBC Panorama. The episode shown on the BBC last night, Wednesday 22 May, shows staff intimidating, mocking, restraining patients, many of whom have been detained the Mental Health Act.

Kathy Roberts, Chief Executive of Association of Mental Health Providers, commented:

“We are saddened to see the abuse of human rights and mistreatment that has taken place at Whorlton Hall. A commitment was made by the Government to shut down specialist hospitals following the Winterbourne View scandal 7 years ago. There can be no excuse for the failure to act on this.

“Sadly, we are not surprised by what has come to light – long-term institutions and secure hospitals are not suitable places for anyone. People need empathic, high-quality, person-centred support to enable them to live safely and well; secure in-patient settings do not provide such an environment. Support to meet the needs of people with mental ill health, learning disabilities, and autism needs to be offered in community-based settings..

“This is not impossible, and the voluntary and community sector has a long history of providing support to people who need it the most in their homes and in their communities. It can be done and the expertise of and services being provided in the VCSE sector need to be utilised effectively so that people can have the opportunity to live good lives with dignity and their human rights protected” 

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.”

Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Care, Department of Health and Social Care, responded:

“The actions revealed by this programme are quite simply appalling, there is no other word to describe it, I absolutely condemn any abuse of this kind, completely and utterly. On behalf of the health and care system, I am deeply sorry that this has happened. One thing we can all agree on… what was shown last night was not care, nor was it in anyway caring.”

See our joint response with Learning Disabilities England, Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, and Shared Lives Plus here.