THE GOVERNMENT has apologised for the treatment of vulnerable patients at a private hospital in County Durham after evidence of abuse was revealed by an undercover investigation.

Details of abuse at Whorlton Hall, in Whorlton, near Barnard Castle, were aired last night during a BBC Panorama documentary.

The treatment of patients with autism and learning disabilities was branded as "tantamount to psychological torture" by Labour.   Health Minister Caroline Dinenage apologised on behalf of the NHS after the  programme uncovered staff mocking, taunting, intimidating and repeatedly restraining patients at the unit.

In undercover footage recorded by BBC reporter Olivia Davies, who went undercover between December and February,  one staff member called a patient a "fat c***" and another described the hospital as "house of mongs".

Another patient was told by her care worker that her family are "f****** poison".

The facility has now closed and has been boarded up.

A police investigation is underway and officers were at the scene this morning to secure the site.  Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Dinenage told MPs: "On behalf of the health and care system, I am deeply sorry that this has happened."

She said the actions revealed by the Panorama programme were "quite simply appalling".

Ms Dinenage said she "utterly condemned" the actions which led to "incredibly traumatic experiences of vulnerable people with a learning disability and autism at Whorlton Hall".

The Government will take action to look at whether there was criminality in the actions, whether the oversight system is working and also the commissioning of care services.

She said: "There are also a range of questions more broadly about whether these types of institutions and these type of inpatient settings are ever an appropriate place to keep the vulnerable for any extended length of time."

Ms Dinenage added: "Where it is essential that somebody has to be supported at distance from their home, we will make sure that those arrangements are supervised.

"We won't tolerate having people out of sight and out of mind. Where someone with a learning disability or an autistic person has to be an inpatient out of area, they will be now visited every six weeks if they are a child or every eight weeks if they are an adult."

Shadow health minister Barbara Keeley said units like Whorlton Hall should be shut, and patients should be looked after in their communities.

Ms Keeley said: "The abuse shown on the BBC Panorama programme last night was appalling. It should never have been allowed to happen.

"The fact it is eight years since the Winterbourne View scandal and nothing has changed should be a source of shame for this Government.

"Rather than warm words, the Government seems to be getting good at warm words these days and little else. Will you take personal responsibility and say what you are doing to ensure this never happens again?

"The abuse was tantamount to psychological torture, with residents sworn at, threatened and intimidated. Other residents were violently restrained or deliberately hurt by care staff."

Ms Keeley said this was not an isolated incident, rather "part of a pattern of cruel and callous behaviour" in care institutions.

She called for such care facilities to be closed down, and for people to be moved into "supported placements" in the community.

Ms Dinenage responded, saying the Government's response is about action, not warm words.

She said that, as far as possible, people should be treated in a community setting.

She added that when patients do need to go into an inpatient setting, it should be as close to their homes as possible, and for as short a period as possible.

Meanwhile Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman, whose constituency  includes Whorlton, described the abuse as "truly horrific."

She added: "The Government needs to fund these services properly.

"It's not good having people who are not qualified and not properly paid working with the most vulnerable people in our society."

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) health watchdog also apologised after it rated the hospital "good" following an inspection in 2017.

Tory former minister Sir Desmond Swayne said: "What happens back at the Care Quality Commission's headquarters when a story like this emerges?

"Are the inspectors who rated it so recently summoned in for a meeting without coffee or, perhaps, the rough end of a pineapple?"

Ms Dinenage said: "The Care Quality Commission are obviously taking this incredibly seriously. There were some massive concerns raised last night."

Former health minister Norman Lamb asked if the Government is "tolerating widespread human rights abuses".

The Liberal Democrat MP said: "What families want is not another review, but action for their loved ones."

He added: "Will there be substantial investment now in developing community facilities so that people with learning disability and autism have the chance of a good life that the rest of us take for granted?"