Staff abused women at learning disability unit, finds CQC

Cygnet Health Care hospital closed and four staff sacked after CCTV footage showed workers emotionally and physically abusing service users

Dictionary, definition of the word abuse.
Photo: Feng Yu/Adobe Stock

A learning disability hospital has been closed and four staff sacked after a Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection found workers had physically and emotionally abused service users.

The inspectorate said it had taken enforcement action – details of which will be disclosed shortly – against provider Cygnet Health Care after visits to its Yew Trees hospital in Essex in July and August found eight examples of inappropriate staff behaviour – including abuse – among 20 pieces of CCTV footage.

The inspection found that staff who witnessed the abuse but not reported it. The 10-bed hospital for women with learning disabilities and mental health needs, which was already rated ‘inadequate’, has been closed and four staff sacked.

‘A culture of poor care’

CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health Dr Kevin Cleary said: “Our latest inspection of Cygnet Yew Trees revealed that people who lived there were being subjected not only to poor care, but to abuse.

“Some staff who had witnessed this abuse did not escalate it. Although they may have feared the consequences of speaking out against colleagues who had abused patients, their failure to act perpetuated abuse and allowed a culture of poor care to become established.

“Cygnet’s leadership has made efforts to address the harm people experienced while in its care, including suspending staff and making police referrals. This does not change or excuse the fact that a culture was allowed to develop at this hospital which led to people suffering abuse.

“Any enforcement action we may take will be published as soon as legal restrictions allow.”

Cygnet said it contacted the CQC after finding CCTV footage of a person being abused in July. After an internal investigation, which uncovered a second incident involving a second service users, the provider suspended eight members of staff and two agency workers, including those who allegedly witnessed abuse.

It has referred staff to nursing regulator the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Disclosure and Barring Service, and contacted police.

‘Small minority of staff’

A spokesperson for Cygnet Health Care said: “The safety and wellbeing of the people in our care is our absolute priority, and we are appalled by the actions of this small minority of staff at Yew Trees. As soon as the issues came to light, our managers took steps to support the two patients involved, including to offer specialist support. We are also doing everything we can to assist the authorities to fully investigate what happened.

“The examples of poor care that we have reported to the CQC are not reflective of Cygnet as a whole and, as the CQC’s final inspection acknowledged, other CCTV footage showed positive and caring behaviour towards patients at Yew Trees. The previous CQC report in April 2020 said staff were discreet, respectful and responsive when caring for patients, and that most staff felt respected, supported and valued.

“Cygnet Yew Trees is now closed. Prior to this investigation, the hospital had been part of a comprehensive review by Cygnet into the properties it acquired from the Danshell Group and we had already taken the decision to invest in major renovation works to bring it up to the standard of Cygnet’s national portfolio.  There is currently no-one residing at Yew Trees.”

A spokesperson for Essex Police said investigations were ongoing in relation to the case and it had interviewed two people voluntarily, taken witness statements and viewed the CCTV footage.

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7 Responses to Staff abused women at learning disability unit, finds CQC

  1. Anonymous September 23, 2020 at 8:16 pm #

    The placements cost eye watering amounts. These companies need to take ownership of what happens on their watch

  2. Ruth Cartwright September 24, 2020 at 4:07 pm #

    A spokesperson for Cygnet Health Care said: “The safety and wellbeing of the people in our care is our absolute priority.” Really? They appear to have completely forgotten about the scandal revealed by Panorama at another Cygnet -run establishment, Whorlton Hall, only last year. No doubt ‘lessons have been learned’ from that, but given that this article reports that ‘The previous CQC report in April 2020 said staff were discreet, respectful and responsive when caring for patients, and that most staff felt respected, supported and valued,’ the lesson may have been one of how to cover up abuse perpetuated by staff on vulnerable residents. Anon is right; there is a deep-seated culture in these companies which permits and colludes with this sort of inexcusable abuse, and which needs to be addressed at every level..

  3. frustrated September 24, 2020 at 5:51 pm #

    I notice once again this was a hospital for those with L/D but don’t be fooled into thinking that alternatives such as Residential Homes are any better.
    I worked in a latter ‘home’ and whistleblew because of institutional abuse. It was money orientated not towards the residents or staff but ???
    Lack of management lead to power games between staff who openly argued with each other. There was only one way of supporting residents and that was the intuitions old fashioned manner learnt from when the home had been a hospital.

  4. Ian September 24, 2020 at 6:51 pm #

    So ADASS advocates for tax payers to bail out these providers because apparently they can’t afford to purchase PPE but remains silent on this abuse. Now we know that they prioritise private business profit over safe and dignified care for vulnerable people.

  5. Jim Downey September 25, 2020 at 1:34 pm #

    Meanwhile in another part of the UK [lest we forget] a public enquiry has recently been agreed into the hundreds of incidents of abuse in a Local Authoity run adult learning disability hospital/unit at Muckamore Abbey in N.Ireland. This was a 6 bedded unit so just handful of patients suffered multiple physical assaults and inhumane ‘punishment’ over a 6 month period. Many staff were suspended,sacked or left due to either being involved or failing to report. And this was a state run facility not private!

    And the scandal only came to light because of the dogged persistence of one father whom knew something was not right with his non verbal adult son so he demanded CCTV footage and kept getting the runaround by Trust managers. Staff thought the CCTV was not recording but it was and it told an horrendous story which they could not deny otherwise the scandal and buse may have continued. It has taken 2 or 3 years of pressure for the NI assemble to agree to a public enquiry so watch this space for the neglect and shame it will expose

  6. Ian September 27, 2020 at 12:32 pm #

    Its not about local authority or private profiteers abusing, both are despicable. Just not sure why ADASS is so enamoured by private equity that they remain mute about care standards while advocating for a tax payer bailout.

  7. frustrated October 2, 2020 at 12:24 am #

    Ian since the Panorama programme about Winterbourne View Hospital it has been government policy to move those with L/D from hospitals.

    It appears to have become a very black and white issue hospital bad, other care good.

    As I say my experience of a privately run residential home did not justify the ideology that people with L/d will receive good care if they move out of hospitals.