23rd May 2019

A police investigation has been launched and 16 staff suspended after abuse and mistreatment of vulnerable adults at a hospital in County Durham has been uncovered.

A BBC Panorama programme aired on 22 May 2019 after undercover BBC filming caught staff at Whorlton Hall, County Durham abusing patients with learning disabilities and autism.

Physical, verbal and psychological abuse of patients occurred at the hospital which has now been closed.

The BBC reported on a number of incidents including:-

  • Staff verbally abusing patients including in one case where a patient is told by her care worker that her family are “poison”.
  • Two male staff members singling out a female patient for psychological abuse. Aware of her fear of men they told her in an effort to keep her quiet that her room will be inundated with men. This caused her significant distress to the extent that it was described as psychological torture by Glynis Murphy, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Disability at Kent University’s Tizard Centre.
  • Six care workers telling the undercover BBC reporter that they had deliberately hurt patients including one who describes banging a patient’s head against the floor and another who speaks about flooring a patient with an outstretched arm which he called “clotheslining”.
  • Threats of violence by members of staff towards patients. On one occasion a male care worker was caught on camera threatening to “deck” a patient, while another patient is told they will be “put through the floor”.
  • Excessive physical restraint including one incident a patient was held on the ground for nearly 10 minutes with one member of staff restraining him, while handing out chewing gum to colleagues. Professor Andrew McDonnell, an expert in autism at Birmingham City University, who develops training to help reduce the use of restraint described it as a “cruel punishment”.

Cygnet, the firm which runs the hospital, said it was “shocked and deeply saddened”.

Dr Paul Lelliott of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates services for people with learning disabilities, told the BBC “All I can do is apologise deeply to the people concerned.”

If you, or a family member was a patient at Whorlton Hall, County Durham and you have concerns about treatment received please contact our Solicitors Richard Hardy or Andrew Freckleton on 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk to discuss further.