In her blog this week our CEO, Anna Lunts, reflects on the impact of withholding a damning report into abuse at Whorlton Hall 

In her blog this week our CEO, Anna Lunts, reflects on the impact of withholding a damning report into abuse at Whorlton Hall 

An independent review has found that the Care Quality Commission was wrong not to publish an inspection raising concerns about Whorlton Hall four years before an undercover BBC reporter revealed horrific abuse there.

I’ve written about the abuse at Whorlton Hall previously and the latest revelations, that appalling treatment there could have been stopped four years earlier, are utterly shocking.

After the BBC programme was aired, the Care Quality Commission claimed it was incredibly difficult to spot the signs of problems in the closed cultures that characterise these sort of institutions. Yet there were 100 visits by official agencies to Whorlton Hall in the year before the abuse was uncovered. Most people can get a sense of an atmosphere that is oppressive, controlling, cruel and insensitive. Professionals, if they focused on asking the right questions, should surely have been able to quickly assess what was really happening in this institution?

CQC inspector Barry Stanley-Wilkinson certainly suspected that the staff at Whorlton Hall were not providing appropriate care and support in a therapeutic environment. His unpublished report from 2015 found the hospital, near Barnard Castle, “required improvement”, raising a number of concerns, including inadequate staffing levels, a lack of training and a failure to follow patients’ care plans. But a subsequent report the following year gave the privately-run, NHS-funded unit an overall rating of “good”.

Had the CQC acted on concerns raised by Barry Stanley-Wilkinson the abuse happening there could have been exposed long before the BBC Panorama programme last year.

Senior managers claimed that Mr Stanley-Wilkinson’s report was “not of publishable quality” and lacked evidence to back up some of the findings.

But Mr Stanley-Wilkinson, who later resigned from the CQC, said the failure to publish his 2015 report “was a missed opportunity to potentially prevent the abusive practices that we saw in the Panorama documentary”.

“I’m still struggling to understand why that inspection report was never published. The CQC has said there wasn’t sufficient evidence within the report. I was never asked to make any further amendments, I was never asked to supplement the report with further evidence.

“For them to say there was insufficient evidence within the report, that wasn’t the responsibility of just my managers to make that decision, it was the responsibility of a quality panel to make that decision. But it never went to a quality panel,” he told the BBC.

The undercover Panorama filming at Whorlton Hall came eight years after Winterbourne View – a scandal that ministers promised would never be allowed to happen again. They said people would be moved out of this type of unit and tougher regulation would ensure these vulnerable patients were treated with dignity and respect. So the fact that warnings over the care being provided at Whorlton Hall went unheeded seems unforgivable and prompts even more questions about how these institutions are regulated.

An independent review commissioned by the CQC into its handling of Mr Stanley-Wilkinson’s draft inspection report makes several recommendations. They relate to the security and availability of notes from inspections, information provided to inspectors about services, and the internal whistle blowing processes of the CQC.

However, just days after publishing this review the CQC has been forced to retract almost 40 inspection reports into care and nursing homes after finding they included ‘duplicate material’  provided by two experts by experience and one specialist adviser who assisted inspectors. There was evidence that identical quotes from patients, service users and families had been copied and pasted into reports about different homes.

The material has been removed from 40 of the homes which have retained their CQC ratings. However, the remaining 38 care homes will need to be re-inspected.

It’s difficult to have faith in the system against this back drop but it does underline the importance for providers, like ourselves, to have the confidence to challenge an inspection if we feel the process has not been carried out correctly.

If we are to protect vulnerable people we need to be confident that the inspectorate has both courage and integrity – core values that should run through the whole care sector like a golden thread.