THE public body charged with ensuring vulnerable people in residential homes and hospitals are properly cared for has defended its inspection regime after a placed a Darlington unit in special measures five months after rating it as outstanding.

Councillor Andrew Scott, Darlington Borough Council’s former cabinet member for health and partnerships, said the Care Quality Commission (CQC) had awarded Newbus Grange its highest rating last December and its report that rated it as inadequate in May had revealed that concerns had been known for 12 months.

He said: “It means their first inspection was flawed. It leaves me with grave concerns about the quality of CQC’s inspection.”

In the second inspection CQC inspectors found “patient safety, privacy and dignity was not a sufficient priority” at the hospital for men living with autism and learning disabilities.

They noted that staff interactions with the people they supported were “poor” and that some staff failed to interact or engage with people when they were directly supporting them.

Inspectors also raised a safeguarding alert following the visit, after two carers identified unexplained injuries to a patient.

A CQC spokeswoman said its outstanding rating of the care being provided at Newbus Grange was based on what had been found during an inspection and on what people using the service told inspectors at the time.

She said: “By their nature, the quality of care these services provide can change quickly and when we returned in May there had clearly been an unacceptable deterioration in the managerial oversight of this hospital, and subsequently in the quality of care.

“We raised immediate concerns with the provider following the inspection and took enforcement action requiring the service to act on our findings to ensure people were kept safe from avoidable harm.”

The CQC said some “important factors”, such as ward culture and staff behaviour, were more difficult to assess than, for example, the physical fabric of the building or the quality of written care plans.

The spokeswoman said: “We are strengthening our assessment of these types 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 in our work.”