A HOSPITAL which provides care for people with learning disabilities and autism has been placed into special measures after inspectors found 'unexplained' injuries to patients, staff asleep on duty and strong smells of urine.

Newbus Grange, in Darlington, which is due to close next month for a refurbishment, was given an inadequate rating by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) just five months after being rated outstanding in December 2018.

But the CQC were forced to reinspect the independent hospital, which is part of the Cygnet Health Care group, in May this year after the uncovering of an abuse scandal and other serious concerns raised by BBC Panorama into Whorlton Hall, near Barnard Castle, which is also run by Cygnet.

The findings come just weeks after Sean McNulty, a care worker at Newbus Grange, was jailed for more than two-and-a-half years after he was caught on camera punching and kicking a man with Down syndrome and assaulting another with autism and complex needs.

Due to concerns identified at the inspection, the visit was extended across three days and the service was rated inadequate for being safe, responsive and well-led, and requires improvement for being effective and caring.

A safeguarding alert was raised by inspectors following the visit after two carers identified unexplained injuries to a patient. One carer also raised concern about the same patient not receiving appropriate medical attention following an injury.

Inspectors observed several interactions between staff and the people they supported and found nearly half of them were poor, and they found staff files which showed one incident where an inappropriate restraint technique had been used and two episodes where staff members were found asleep whilst on duty.

Inspectors reported strong smells of urine and damp, and areas of the hospital had not been well maintained and were run-down. The service recognised some windows were potentially unsafe, however remedial actions were not sufficient and the windows continued to pose a risk.

The service’s infection prevention and control practices were inconsistent and essential documents relating to the administration of a medication in crushed form were not in place.

Inspectors also raised concerns about the service’s restrictions on patients having access to their own possessions, and the lack of appropriate consideration or documentation to justify these.

Professor Ted Baker, chief inspector of hospitals, said: “On this inspection we found that people were not receiving safe care, their dignity was not respected and they were not treated with compassion. The environment was poorly maintained, risks to people’s safety were not addressed and we observed a disinterested attitude from some staff to the people they were meant to be caring for.

“There had clearly been an unacceptable deterioration in the managerial oversight of this hospital, and subsequently in the physical environment and the quality of care, since our last inspection.

“We have strengthened our approach to inspecting these type of services so we can better incorporate the experiences of the people who use them to make our assessments of quality and safety and to help us to spot poor care. We will continue to improve our regulation of these services by working with providers and the public and increasing the use of people who use services and their families and advocates in our work."

A spokesperson for the hospital said: “Following the CQC inspection in May this year we responded rapidly to strengthen managerial oversight and implement a comprehensive action plan to address the issues raised.

“Since then the hospital’s new management has continued to work closely with the CQC, as well as with service users, staff and those who commission our care services, to ensure we act upon the report’s recommendations.

“Whilst we are disappointed in the findings of this inspection, particularly because the CQC had rated the service Outstanding only five months previously, we remain committed to implementing the very best standards and quality of care. Where we believe we need to enhance our services to better meet evolving patient needs, we will always act quickly to make the necessary improvements and investment required.”

A spokesperson for NHS Darlington Clinical Commissioning Group said: “We are deeply concerned by the CQC’s findings and we have been liaising with Cygnet to ensure all families of patients are aware.

“The CCG are working closely with the CQC to make improvements and there is a closure plan in place with Cygnet for the end of October."

The spokesperson for the hospital added: “Separate to the recent CQC inspection, we had decided with local care commissioners to refurbish and change the focus of our provision to best serve local people.

“A final decision about the service that will be provided there is still to be agreed with commissioners, however in order for refurbishments to take place we will be temporarily vacating the premises on October 31, 2019 with a view to re-opening in early 2020.

“All our service users have already been informed and we are working closely with them, their families and commissioners to ensure a safe transition to suitable, alternative placements.”