SENIOR officials from the health and social care watchdog defended its decision not to publish a report containing allegations of abuse by staff on vulnerable patients at Whorlton Hall– made four years before a shocking BBC documentary– as MPs accused them of a whitewash.

Patients at the private hospital, near Barnard Castle, complained to the Care Quality Commission about bullying by staff, inappropriate behaviour and not knowing how to protect themselves back in 2015.

But an inspection from the time was never published and nine months later a different inspection team rated the facility as good, the Human Rights Committee heard yesterday.

Committee chairwoman Harriet Harman MP said the CQC knew what was going on at Whorlton Hall.

“The surprise that you showed in your interview on Panorama, I can't square with the papers we've got here,” she told Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector at the CQC.

Dr Lelliott insisted the first he knew of the apparent abuse, now the subject of a police investigation, was when he saw a transcript of the programme shortly before it was broadcast.

He said: “I have worked in mental health now 40 years, for more than 30 years as clinician consultant psychiatrist, and I’m glad to say in my entire career I have never seen anything like that. I echo your words that it was horrifying and sickening.”

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But the committee heard that Stanley Wilkinson, who led the 2015 inspection, complained when his findings were not published and subsequently left the CQC.

Ms Harman said: "I have to put this to you quite bluntly Dr Lelliott. It looks like there was a diligent inspection in 2015, it looks like they discovered what we then saw to our horror on Panorama on our televisions, it looks like the CQC didn't publish that 2015 report, it was suppressed.

"There was a row about it and a strong complaint from the lead inspector.

"And then a new team– a smaller, less experienced team– was sent in and they produced a report which was a whitewash and which said Whorlton Hall was good."

Dr Lelliot responded: "I don't accept that that is an accurate description of what happened."

He said the 2015 report had not been published because it contained conflicting statements about patients' views on care, with some describing staff as treating them with dignity and caring.

He said had evidence of abuse been found that the CQC, and other health organisations responsible for adult social care, would have taken decisive action.

The CQC’s chief executive since 2018, Ian Trenholm, said an independent review into its handling of the report and regulation of Whorlton Hall– which has since been boarded up– is ongoing but it is clear the CQC must change how it inspects services to ensure it detects cases of patient abuse.

He said the Panorama investigation showed some individuals "appearing to collude in a way that was deliberately thwarting our methodology".

"I think if people are seeking to behave in this way, what we can do is minimise the risk of it happening to the absolute minimum.

"But I don't think I can honestly, hand on heart, sit here, and promise you it will never happen again, he said.