Whorlton Hall abuse: Watchdog defends inspection

Whorlton Hall hospital
Image caption Whorlton Hall is a 17-bed unit for adults with learning difficulties and autism

The care watchdog has defended its inspection of a County Durham hospital at the centre of abuse allegations.

BBC Panorama's undercover filming appeared to show patients at Whorlton Hall being taunted and intimidated.

At a parliamentary hearing, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) denied it was aware of any abuse, and defended its decision not to publish a report in 2015 which criticised aspects of care.

However its chief executive said it would "have to change its methodology".

The 2015 report found the unit "required improvement", raising a number of concerns, including inadequate staffing levels, a lack of training and a failure to follow patients' care plans.

A subsequent report the following year gave the privately-run, NHS-funded unit an overall rating of "good".

The CQC's senior managers have faced a grilling by the parliamentary Human Rights Committee over why the report was unpublished.

Chief Executive Ian Trenholm said it had identified five areas that required improvement, but none were rated as inadequate.

'Minimise the risk'

He said: "If any evidence of bullying or abuse had been detected, the police would have been called and the home would have been closed down.

"A number of professionals were working in Whorlton Hall and none of them found any evidence of abuse.

"I think at this stage it is something of a leap to suggest it was going on in 2015, as nobody found that."

Image caption Two CQC senior managers appeared before MPs

The BBC Panorama investigation showed individuals "appearing to collude in a way that was deliberately thwarting our methodology", he told the MPs.

"I agree that we do need to reflect on, and change, our methodology - the reviews we have commissioned will look at how our regulatory methods work and whether they protect individuals properly."

The CQC has launched an independent review into its handling of the draft report, as well as a wider review looking at the entire regulatory history of Whorlton Hall from 2015 to 2019.

Mr Trenholm 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."

Following the allegations, seven men and three women were arrested at addresses in Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Stockton, and later released under investigation pending further inquiries.

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