HEALTHCARE watchdogs have been told improvements are needed to strengthen inspections in light of the alleged abuse of patients at a mental health hospital.

An independent review has been carried out after the Care Quality Commission missed the chance to prevent the ill-treatment of people being looked after at Whorlton Hall, near Barnard Castle.

The commission recently admitted it was wrong not to publish a report by one of its inspectors who raised concerns about abuse at the hospital in 2015.

The scandal emerged last year when BBC Panorama went undercover and filmed the alleged abuse of patients with learning disabilities and autism at the 17-bed unit.

The CQC commissioned Professor Glynis Murphy to look at whether the abuse of patients at Whorlton Hall could have been recognised earlier by its regulatory process.

Prof Murphy was also asked to make recommendations for how CQC can improve its regulation of similar services in the future.

Ian Trenholm, chief executive of the CQC, said: “I am grateful to Professor Murphy for undertaking this important work and to all of those who have contributed to the first phase of the review.

“I am clear that we have work to do to strengthen our approach, and we are committed to doing that.”

A previous independent review, by David Noble, found that the decision not to publish the 2015 report, which found Whorlton Hall ‘required improvement’ prior to a 2016 re-inspection, which deemed it ‘good’, was wrong.

Ten people were arrested as part of the allegations and a police investigation is ongoing.

Whorlton Hall is now closed, but last June the CQC defended its decision not to publish the report and was accused of a ‘whitewash’ by the Human Rights Committee chaired by Harriet Harman MP.

Prof Murphy found the CQC followed its procedures in relation to Whorlton Hall but concludes that a number of improvements are needed.

The review makes six recommendations relating to: displaying data for services in a user-friendly way to help inform inspections; changes to inspection methodology including more unannounced and evening and weekend inspections; more regular and swifter publication of inspection reports, and improving the response to abuse allegations.

The review also makes recommendations relating to: safeguarding alerts and whistleblowing; prioritising gathering the views and experiences of people using services and their families; a more flexible inspection approach when information about a service indicates that it is at risk of failing its service users, as well as not registering isolated, unsuitable or outdated services or allowing them to expand.

Professor Murphy will be presenting phase two of the review, which will include further improvements for the CQC, later this year.

Mr Trenholm said: “We welcome Professor Murphy’s review which makes a number of recommendations.

“We will be incorporating the recommendations into our new strategy to ensure we improve how we regulate mental health, learning disability and/or autism services to get it right for people who use these services.

“Some of the recommendations relate to work that is already in progress but there is more to be done.

“We are committed to working closely with people who use services, families and professionals to develop our approach in a way which more effectively safeguards their human rights.

“In the meantime, inspectors and their managers have been given supporting information to help them identify and respond to ‘closed cultures’ in services.

We are also refreshing our guidance on registration and variations to registration for providers supporting people with a learning disability and autistic people.

“The work we are doing in our review of restraint, seclusion and segregation continues, and the final report will make practical recommendations for CQC and the wider system to improve care and outcomes for people with a learning disability and autistic people.”