LESSONS continue to be learnt by the Care Quality Commission on how it regulates care settings, on the back of the Whorlton Hall abuse scandal.

Last spring, an investigation by the BBC Panorama programme appeared to show staff mocking, intimidating and repeatedly restraining vulnerable patients at the private facility, near Barnard Castle.

The home for adults with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism, which was operated by Cygnet, subsequently closed.

Durham police launched an investigation and ten people were arrested, with a further six interviewed having attended the police station voluntarily. Enquiries are said to be ongoing.

Care safeguarding body the CQC also came under fire for failing to act on the concerns of its own members, who had raised concerns about practices at the NHS-funded care facility four years earlier, and a 2017 inspection which rated it as good.

Glynis Murphy, professor of clinical psychology and disability, was brought in to lead an independent review of the CQC’s regulation of Whorlton Hall between 2015 and 2019.

Describing much of what Panorama had found as the "absolute antithesis" of good care, her first report made a number of recommendations for CQC to strengthen its inspection and regulatory approach for mental health, learning disability and/or autism services.

Just after that was published in March of this year, the CQC had to suspend routine inspections when the country went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, it has managed to implement a number of changes which are assessed in Prof Murphy’s second report which was published this week.

More unannounced inspections, evening and weekend visits are now made to facilities, data such as abuse allegations and staff turnover is more accessible and there is closer working with health and local authorities.

Further recommendations include not rating services which have used frequent restraint, seclusion and segregation or which cannot show how they support whistleblowing and reporting of concerns as 'good' or 'outstanding'.

Peter Wyman, chairman of CQC, said: “Professor Murphy’s second report explores the international research in relation to the detection and prevention of abuse in services and makes additional recommendations for CQC.

“The report has today been welcomed by CQC’s board who will be considering how best to take forward the recommendations.

“Since March we have been working to incorporate the recommendations made in the first report into our regulation of services for people with a learning disability and autistic people.

“This includes training our inspectors to better identify services that might be at risk of developing a closed culture, trialling new tools to aid inspectors and improving how we use and analyse data.

“We know there is more to do and central to this is our ability to hear from people who use services, to give more weight to what they tell us, and then improve our ability to act on their concerns.

“We will be considering this as part of our new strategy which we will be consulting on next year.

“In addition, we have now published the final report of our review into restraint, seclusion and segregation which calls for fundamental changes to how care is planned, funded, delivered and monitored for people with a learning disability, autistic people and people with mental health conditions.

“The Out of sight – who cares? report makes a number of recommendations for both CQC and the wider system. We are working with the Government to ensure that these recommendations are implemented and can lead to change.”

A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said: “The police investigation remains ongoing, including working closely with our colleagues in the CPS.

"We would expect it will take a number of months before the inquiry is complete."