Ten staff members arrested following BBC Panorama footage showing abuse at learning disability hospital

There has been a ferocious reaction to the abuse depicted on last week's BBC programme, which has been directed at providers, commissioners, government and the regulator

Photo by: nito

Story updated 10.05 pm, 28 May 2019

Ten staff members at a learning disability hospital have been arrested after a BBC Panorama programme showed footage of staff appearing to mistreat patients.

Following an investigation into alleged abuse of patients at Whorlton Hill psychiatric hospital, Durham constabulary confirmed it had arrested seven men and three women in connection with the undercover recording, which showed carers being violent towards patients.

Police said arrests were made at addresses in the areas of Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Stockton on Friday 24 May, with the staff questioned about offences relating to abuse and neglect.

Sixteen staff had been suspended by the hospital after the programme first aired last Tuesday.

Police said they would seek cooperation of the BBC Panorama production team in gathering further evidence.

Furious reaction 

Last week’s BBC Panorama programme provoked fury among service users, families and practitioners directed at government, commissioners, providers and the regulator.

The programme depicted abusive behaviour towards people including of Alex, a 20-year-old woman with autism who had been at Whorlton Hall for nearly a year.


The hospital, run by Cygnet Healthcare, who acquired the previous provider, The Danshell Group, last year, is now closed, and patients have been moved to other services.


The CQC, which last inspected Whorlton Hall in March 2018 and rated it as ‘good’ in 2017, has apologised for failing to uncover the abuse on its last visit.

The reaction to the programme was all the greater because it came eight years after a similar Panorama documentary revealed abuse at Winterbourne View, a learning disability hospital near Bristol. This led to a government programme, Transforming Care, to end all inappropriate placements in hospital for people with learning disabilities or autism by 2014, through their replacement with effective community support.

However, currently there are an estimated 2,245 patients in such hospitals – a figure NHS England is aiming to halve – and, as this week’s Care Quality Commission review into long-term segregation of adults and children in hospital revealed – many are experiencing poor care and environments.

Government response

Last week, the government was called upon by former care minister Norman Lamb to give its response.


Photo: DHSC

“The actions revealed by this programme are quite simply appalling…and I absolutely condemn any abuse of this kind, completely and utterly,” said Caroline Dinenage, the current minister, in response.

She apologised, “on behalf of the health and care system”, to victims of the abuse and their families. She set out the actions had been taken after the government, NHS England, the CQC and Cygnet were informed about the programme’s revelations:

  • That, while the hospital was open, safe staffing levels were maintained following the suspension of “a significant number of staff”.
  • An incident co-ordination team had been established including Durham Council, the local clinical commissioning group, NHS England, NHS Improvement and the CQC’s regional head of inspection.
  • That Durham Constabulary opened an inquiry into the abuse earlier this month.

Dinenage said that the following questions needed to be answered:

  1. Whether the behaviour revealed was criminal.
  2. Whether the inspection and regulatory framework for these types of services was working, given that, despite whistleblowing concerns, the abuse was not identified.
  3. Whether the oversight of commissioners by NHS England and the CQC fit for purpose.
  4. Whether such provision was ever appropriate for this group of service users.

In response, Lamb asked whether there would be a criminal prosec by the Health and Safety Executive into the provider, but also turned his fire on the persistence of an institutional model of care.

Norman Lamb

“The system continues to sanction a model of care that is outdated and wrong. If people are contained in institutions, a long way from home, awful things will happen behind closed doors. Will the secretary of state [Matt Hancock] take personal responsibility to close down institutions providing the wrong model of care. Why does the CQC continue to register new instituionss offering inappropriate instutitional care? Do they need new powers? What lessons should we learn from the fact that CQC rated this place as good? Is this another case of whistleblowers not being listened to? How much was Cygnet charging the NHS per week for this awful abuse and neglect?”

Reaction from people with learning disabilities

The self-advocacy charity Speak Up, which is run by people with learning disabilities or autism, has posted a number of responses from its staff on its Twitter feed.

There have also been messages of support for people who had been abused at Whorlton Hall and elsewhere, or received services in similar settings.

Preventing abuse or ending hospital care?

While some of the response to the programme has focused on ways of preventing such abuse, many in the sector have said that the key is ending the provision of care to people with learning disabilities and autism in hospitals.

The role of commissioners

Some respondents pointed the finger at commissioners for sending people to Whorlton Hall.

The role of the CQC

While the CQC has apologised for failing to uncover the abuse, there was a lack of sympathy from many.


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31 Responses to Ten staff members arrested following BBC Panorama footage showing abuse at learning disability hospital

  1. Jill Honeybun May 23, 2019 at 11:59 am #

    It’s time CQC responded immediately to people’s complaints, not just “bear them in mind when they do the next inspection”. I complained repeatedly to them about an issue, not only did they not investigate when I had clear evidence, they didn’t investigate when they did an inspection and gave the care agency a good rating!!

    • Ruth Parker May 23, 2019 at 12:36 pm #

      The CQC are not fit for purpose. I complained to them about abuse of my daughter from carers at an agency. They went straight to the agency and said they had denied it. And that was the end of it! And they got a good rating at a later inspection. Unbelievable but true. But the LA are no better. Informed about non accidental injuries at one of their own homes they wouldn’t even investigate. Keep your loved ones at home whatever the cost.

    • Anon - Safeguarding Worker May 23, 2019 at 10:47 pm #

      Absolutely. It’s soul destroying they ignore the evidence.
      As a Safeguarding professional providing evidence I expected some trust and acceptance to my information.
      I still to this day do not feel taken seriously… time and time again.

    • Philip Miller May 24, 2019 at 9:54 am #

      As a parent of a very disabled young boy and requires 24 hour care and is away from his loving home we always hope he is in good loving caring hands as he can not speak out for him self.It sickens me and furious that any type of abuse should be allowed to happen and not one of a member of staff whistled blowed and reported this abuse just allowed it to carry on. Appalling failing of duty of care and these staff that have done this well should be accountable for what they have done.Training from what I’ve heard doesn’t come into it you have to want to do this type of work in the first place it shouldn’t be just a job and these firms that are employing these type of people should accountable for.Local authorities should be doing more failing families who put there trust into caring for there loved ones.

  2. paul macarthur May 23, 2019 at 12:50 pm #

    This is about way more than the failings of the CQC, local management, care management, organisational cultures all drive good or poor quality services and allow abuse to breed or don’t. There are no excuses any more. invest in attracting quality professional staff and you will find quality and safe services.

  3. maharg May 23, 2019 at 1:42 pm #

    Having watched Panorama, and listen to the radio this morning and other news events that talked about the abuse, the upsetting fact is abuse isn’t solely confined to large institutes, the discussions reflect that a government review/investigation should take place, and based on the discussion on the radio this morning by the report writer for Winterbourne view, I am unclear as he said” what that would gained”. His proposal was a closure of these big services (that was eight years ago). Abuse happens in single placement homes, shared properties, supported living, residential homes, nursing homes, workplaces day centres and out in the streets including shops.

    What doesn’t happen normally an opportunity to collate and film the events, put together a program and raise its profile.

    The review will probably highlight failings by all parties to review manage and spot the obvious. When visiting the services, I am always mindful of what I am seeing and looking at, and the more secure the environment, the more restricted my access is. Openness and transparency of the watchwords, but I wonder ifCare Quality Commission and other local authorities are now discussing what we missed. And probably sifting back through safeguarding referrals, incident and accident forms, and reports trying to clarify what we knew and why we did nothing.

    Provision of care cost money, and profit generated services take money to provide services, using people at or around minimum wage to provide essential care and intervention for extremely vulnerable people. These services often are located in isolated locations, and with the expectation that the costs attributed to the care reflect a whole service, e.g. involvement from in-house clinicians. There is a real island mentality. This can promote institutional abuse and management practices.

    Unfortunately even small homes, single occupancy with care staff does not exclude these particular issues being perpetrated on the client.

    The care act included section 42 to ensure that people who were vulnerable, who were at risk, were not able to defend themselves, should have the right to have the situation investigated. However if the perpetrator of the abuse controls the information how does the relevant authorities know.

    There are no easy answers, and there will be no easy outcomes from any investigation into this or any other situation. At least in this case, this situation has come to the attention of the police. And like all successful cases, prosecution will only be achieved with evidence. And the use of the appropriate legislation which reflects the offences that the perpetrators have generated by acting in a manner against vulnerable people.

    • Anon May 24, 2019 at 10:51 pm #

      Thank you Maharg.
      I am frustrated and often have angry unprofessional ramblings in the office regarding the lack of ‘clout’ we have with regard to Section 42’s.
      We (LA) have no power. We are expected to ‘trust’ what the agencies and partners tell us in relation to information provided.
      I have argued that I know in my gut people are lying. The documentation is altered however without firm evidence we haven’t a leg to stand on.
      I’m looking to leave Safeguarding due to the lack of support from both the government in terms of changes in law and CQC.
      I’ve had providers failed to engage in enquiries and I’ve been told there is little I can do. I keep saying the same care staff popping up in different agencies and leaving again when accused of what the police deem as low level without evidence abuse.
      I legally can’t do anything and it is so hard and destroying us.

      In short as a LA Safeguarding employee I can confirm, We do report it and do try our hardest, yet the law doesn’t support us. It’s soul destroying

  4. Denise May 23, 2019 at 2:14 pm #

    Manegerialisation of social work, Tory austerity and neo-liberal policy of privitisation in health and social care needs to be challenged. When profit comes before people these awful incidents of neglect and abuse will continue.

    • Ty June 10, 2019 at 12:36 pm #

      Let’s be balanced here. I’m sure that under various UK Governments throughout history there have been extreme cases of abuse and malpractice by NHS run, local authority run and privately run care homes, wards, etc.

  5. pauline killen May 23, 2019 at 2:20 pm #

    i now have concerns my son is in a danshell -cygnet home this has made me sick to the core the home my son is in has a big turn over of staff its a place i have always felt very uncomfortable visiting the staff are not welcoming at all i am never kept informed of what goes on even when he isnt well

  6. Christopher Mitchell May 23, 2019 at 3:33 pm #

    The whole ‘system’ is toothless and impotent.
    This latest tragedy has arrived only a couple of years after the National Autistc Society’s own sadistic cruelty scandal at its ‘service’ in Somerset, Mendip House, described at the time as Winterbourne View without the cameras.
    Convict the culprits and strike off their employers. Otherwise the ‘system’ itself is complicit in institutional abuse.

  7. graeme taylor May 23, 2019 at 9:41 pm #

    There needs to be a complete change in the staffing of government inspection services. How can they rate a service “good”, when they clearly are anything but?
    Who oversees the government inspectors?

    • Anon June 4, 2019 at 3:11 am #

      These people need highly trained experienced staff but in turn those staff will cost more to employ. I wonder just how many people could actually do this kind of work so physically and mentally demanding yet being paid under 17k a year? Restraint is meant to be minimal so in that case where is the protection for staff? Front line staff such as police, paramedics etc can often be in similar positions but with far higher salaries. I’m not defending some of the things seen such as sexual conversation around patients but clearly workers can be at risk from injury, attacks etc but authorities seem to think that’s ok?

  8. Jayne knight May 23, 2019 at 10:11 pm #

    As an independent advocate I know that people like me have to go through many hoops to get to help
    people in these situations. Quite often I am seen as a threat to the hospital and I know I am not alone when it has been deemed not in someone’s best interest to have an independent advocate

    I would be interested therefore on who the advocates are that Matt Hancock refers to sorting all of this out? The hospitals take very little notice of advocates in my view.

    The people who do this to vulnerable people are the scum of the earth and the people who inspect these places are clearly not looking for what I would and others would look for
    The management were not there. We saw a vile deputy manager that’s all. That place is not unusual and there are places in the community and providers that are not up to decent standards too

    Too wicked for more words and deeply upsetting

  9. Anon - Safeguarding Worker May 23, 2019 at 10:45 pm #

    Ruth Parker thank you for saying this!
    CQC are a nightmare and the law needs to be changed giving Safeguarding Teams power.
    I work in Safeguarding. It’s heartbreaking.
    We have no power. We know this goes on however can’t evidence. We are not supported by police and not supported by CQC.
    I recently gave a wealth of evidence to CQC for it to be dismissed.
    The difference from working in children’s to working in adults is immense.
    I find adults much more challenging and more heartbreaking.
    The local authority can make enquiries to a certain extent however without powers are useless.
    All other local authority Safeguarding staff I have met feel the same.
    It breaks me everyday.
    The government need to look into adult social care ASAP. It’s falling apart!

  10. Kay Murphy May 23, 2019 at 11:34 pm #

    The CQC are jointly responsible for the abuse and terrorising in these institutions. The CQC are not proactive, in fact they are not fit for purpose. The CQC do not investigate individual cases. This is wrong. Many complaints to the CQC fall on deaf ears. Therefore it would seem that they colude with these institutions.

  11. Emma May 24, 2019 at 1:31 am #

    How disgusting, I have just watched the panorama programme and I cannot believe the vile, degrading and disgusting care that is there. Well shall I say no cares empathy or sympathy.
    My brother is autistic and it is a disgrace to think that after winterbourne places like this is one still open but two the carers a d nurses are allowed to carry on. Where was the CEO where was the manager from cygnet and danshall.
    The managers are sickening and if any of them had family in that situation and having treatment like this they would be the first up in arms.
    All people involved should have 15yrs or more in prison full term.
    I am just sickened and saddened to see this again all people regardless of ability or disability deserve a life, care and specialist care when needed and to be treated like human beings.
    GOVERNMENT need to take heed otherwise others that are out there will carry on in this way.
    Also CQC need to up there game in investigating more and shutting places down if whistle blowers have shown concern more than once esp within areas where people are vulnerable and at times unable to Express themselves in terms of abuse.

    • Su Seymour May 24, 2019 at 9:56 pm #

      I have autism and a lot of should not even be sectioned.. It’s ignorance and lack of understanding you don’t medicate autism either.. I could easily have been put away during a meltdown due to ill informed police.. Had they put me somewhere given me drugs restrained me I would have reacted like those people on the programme even without cruelty.. The nearer they got or the mire medicated or men coming near me I would have been kept in for years when all people need Do is understand don’t ever touch anyone or talk to them during meltdown and they will rebound when adrenelin and toxins built up in nervous system has been let out… It’s not mental health nor LD and the anxietys are when triggered so not MH anxiety.. Yes we might wander round making weird noises or flapping etc.. What about those that swear or glob on the street lock them up.. Get those poor people out of homes and hospitals and give them more help at home.. We only have autism we are not mad and need locking up.. It’s gone back to the olden days where we are hidden away and locked up cos people got to restrain etc or medicate everything.. Leave us alone.. I will go and teach people how to treat those wiyh autism to make them feel safe and respected.. Let’s put a few NT people away for having a loss of control then medicate restrain and they will end up being there for ages when there was no real reason to be there in first place

  12. Nick Johnson May 24, 2019 at 9:38 am #

    I am disappointed that the people have once again been removed from their ‘home’ in the most callous fashion when they were innocent. We stopped doing this to children decades ago. What should have happened is that the staff should have been removed and replaced by good staff with the private provider required to poot the bill of the correction and reparation. This way, they get away with things that they should be accountable for. Some people removed from Winterbourne View have had multiple placements and years of continued distress after being removed – not a good way to work with people with autism.
    It would also be good to restore the Social Services Inspectorate at the DH, a function transferred to CSCI but lost in the creation of CQC after Eric Pickles refused to submit Councils to independent scrutiny – Health Commissioners may need similar scrutiny?

    • Sarah provost May 24, 2019 at 9:34 pm #

      Oh so right thank god you mentioned this.It is now down to recruitment of quality staff and quality pay..

  13. Dawn Bailey May 24, 2019 at 10:38 am #

    All staff involved in that abuse should face prison, they have abused their position.
    I watched this while wiping tears , this is barbaric and nothing less than torment and torture it was sickening to see prisoners get treated better. Name and shame each and every one of them.

    • Philip Miller May 24, 2019 at 1:49 pm #

      Well said there is no excuses and everyone there is accountable for there actions for what they have done to those in there care

    • jim May 28, 2019 at 3:11 pm #

      You nailed it! I have a 21 year old daughter with complex needs like those poor innocent in-patients. I can tell you that despite being a practising social worker myself as well as carer I cannot say on this site how I would react to those monsters of staff on those videos who mocked and sneered and took delight in tormenting and restraining child like adults they are employed to protect and care for with understanding and patience. Its no different to staff doing that to toddlers or very young children, so all those perpetrators must be barred for life from working with vulnerable adults or children, and their managers must pay the price

  14. Mental Health Social Worker May 24, 2019 at 1:54 pm #

    I am so incredibly sorry that this torture has happened yet again. It went beyond abuse. It was torture and I would like to see the workers and organisations involved – including CQC charged with a breach of Article 3 “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

    All of this torture was pre-meditated and planned. We can theorize all we like about why workers/organisations of ‘Total Institutions’ (Goffman) develop cultures within the closed environment that move away from what is societally accepted, we can reflect on the issue of emotional labour etc but what we must not deny is that the perpetrators were sadistically and systematically torturing people who were voiceless and powerless. How the hell do we keep missing this disgusting mistreatment?

    It is a national shame and a deep scar on our society that Government must take responsibility for

  15. Elizabeth May 24, 2019 at 10:43 pm #

    Close down all learning disability hospitals.

    Institutional torture also happens in mental health hospitals but is covered up by staff who report in-patients as ‘crazy’. They are sat helpless in them for years. To ‘treat’ psychological symptoms should take no longer than 3 months. This should be an expected turnaround time and return to the community should be a priority. They should not be allowed to stay cut off from society for years in places left to rot.

    Government you need to act

  16. Jamie May 25, 2019 at 7:18 am #

    Still reflecting on the panaroma and really hope the wider picture isn’t lost. Abuse in ATUs and private hospitals is a symptom not a cause of a bigger problem however it is an easy thing to go after, with clear numbers to “make government look good.”
    Sadly I think govt is only interested in numbers around this and I have seen on occasions this attitude coming from ld services. I recall once being told a lady with an ld should just be moved and “dols’ed” to stop them going out/address behaviours of risk opposed to using the mha. The attitude that “mha bad, any other form of deprivation of liberty fine” reigns, though we both know 1 it isn’t that simple and 2 some of the most restrictive standard authorisations / cop orders are worse than the detention under the mha. But at least the numbers look better aye!

    The real issue as evidenced by leder and other matters (rising hate crime, targeting of disabled benefits and even a few short weeks ago the trolls coming out to insult a child with downs syndrome who happened to live Tottenham Hostspurs win, lose or draw) shows the real issue is the continued dehumanisation of dudes with ld & /or asd.

  17. Trish Tudhope May 25, 2019 at 9:14 am #

    The fundamental flaw with CQC is that when a complaint or concern is raised it is referred back to the provider to investigate.

  18. Parent of man with complex needs May 27, 2019 at 7:07 am #

    If this sort of treatment happened to a domestic animal, the perpetrators would likely receive a at least a lifetime ban on keeping animals. This feels like a degrading comparison but it is absolutely not intended in that way..

  19. jim May 27, 2019 at 11:16 am #

    The policy of local authorities [and health and social care trusts in N.Ireland] sending many severely disabled and autistic adults miles away from their home areas to respite or permanent residence continues right across the UK. In my local learning disability assessment and treatment hospital unit in N.Ireland there are very young adults ”stuck” there for months and years due to inadequate or non existent community provision. In fact in one case the young adults has been there for so long that 2 hospital bedrooms have been allocated to them in order to comply with right to family life and privacy under article 8 of the European convention on human rights! In the case of this unit they seem to be well cared for as my daughter was there for 2 weeks and got very good care there

    There are also investigations ongoing into the abuse which went on at Muckamore abbey learning disability hospital near Belfast. this was captured on the unit’s own CCTV providing 100s of hours of footage for police to trawl through..this involved assaults and inappropriate lenghty and repeated use of isolated seclusion in an unsuitable small room. Just like CQC the NI equivalent RQIA did not pick this up despite regular inspections, and also severe neglect at a home for the elderly outside Belfast was not picked up by RQIA either. How are any careres to trust or accept any assurances from these independent regulators?

  20. Tom J May 29, 2019 at 1:16 pm #

    Not popular, but quality empathic care cannot be done on the cheap. You cannot cut corners without there being an impact.

    March 2018 CQC inspection noted concerns around staffing; ”staff sometimes worked 24-hour shifts, agency staff were not receiving appropriate training, and not all staff were receiving individual supervision”*.

    I once worked at a home that was ‘outsourced’- Other than soundbites and glossy brochures; the service users and staff were ignored in the drive for efficiency savings and new policies. Caring about the staff was viewed as a luxury that was secondary to business plans. Anyone knows that culture always trumps policy.

    * http://www.cqc.org.uk/news/stories/statement-panorama-sickening-abuse-vulnerable-people

  21. Ruth Cartwright May 29, 2019 at 3:59 pm #

    Cygnet made a statement which was shown at the end of the Panorama programme. I thought a parallel translation (in brackets and quotes) may be useful.

    We are shocked and deeply saddened by the allegations made against members of staff at Whorlton Hall, part of the Danshell Group, which Cygnet recently acquired. We take these allegations extremely seriously. (“No, we don’t or we would have found out about this a lot earlier.”)

    We have suspended all the members of staff involved and informed all relevant authorities including the police, who have instigated an inquiry, and we are cooperating fully with their investigation. (“Well, we have to do this.”)

    We have a zero tolerance of this behaviour at Cygnet. (“No we don’t.”) This appalling behaviour is entirely inconsistent with our values and high standards (“but we are handicapped by the fact that we would not recognise a value or a high standard if it was served up to us on a plate”) and we remain absolutely committed to delivering the highest quality healthcare, which our patients and residents expect and deserve (“at the right price of course – making money for our shareholders is our primary concern and local authority and NHS commissioners play right into our hands. It is not in our interest to rehabilitate anyone as then we don’t get the lovely money, so we do tend to forget about our residents a bit”). We have transferred all the patients to other services (“with little consideration of any additional trauma this may cause”). Until the conclusion of the police investigation, we are unable to comment further with regards to Whorlton Hall (“and we’d rather not even have said this much”).

    Those implicated in this programme have betrayed not only some of society’s most vulnerable people but also the thousands of people at Cygnet who work daily with dedication and compassion to look after the people in their care. (“I’m sure this is true but how do you know, and do you know where the other rotten apples are?”)