A CARE provider at the centre of a national abuse scandal has sacked or suspended more than a dozen members of staff at residential homes across the region following fresh allegations of the mistreatment of vulnerable residents.

Darlington-based Castlebeck confirmed it had taken action after introducing zero tolerance policies to deal with staff who broke the rules.

According to a source, senior Castlebeck officials have launched investigations at five of the company’s North- East units.

The action taken by the firm is said to have included:

  • Five members of staff suspended from Hollyhurst Independent Hospital, in Darlington, following allegations of abuse;
  • Two members of staff suspended from Whorlton Hall Independent Hospital, Barnard Castle;
  • Several members of staff suspended from Newbus Grange Autism Service, Darlington, amid patient abuse claims. One worker suspended for allegedly taking drugs;
  • Three senior members of staff suspended from Briar Court residential home, in Hartlepool , following allegations of patient bullying;
  • Two senior members of staff sacked at Chesterholme Independent Hospital, in Hexham.

The company said it did not comment on individual cases or matters which were subject to any investigation.

However, it did say the allegations put to the company by The Northern Echo contained two inaccuracies, although it declined to say what they were.

Castlebeck launched a turnaround plan after BBC’s Panorama programme filmed patients being pinned down, slapped, doused in cold water and repeatedly taunted at the company’s Winterbourne View residential hospital, in Bristol. The episode was first screened in May last year.

Following the scandal, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) demanded that the company made “root and branch” changes after visiting all 23 of Castlebeck’s hospitals and homes.

Castlebeck this week told The Northern Echo that it had made a public commitment to higher standards and performance at all of its units.

The company said suspension was a neutral act and was standard practice across the healthcare sector. It said personnel could be suspended from duty for a range of issues and the action was designed to protect those concerned, and to allow any appropriate investigation to take place without prejudice.

Chief operating officer Simon Harrison said: “We have promised to treat any performance issues with zerotolerance, and that is exactly what we are doing.

“This is part of our strict policy on providing good and safe care to those who use our services. A small number of suspensions in any service in the healthcare sector is wholly normal.”

In a recent progress report on the changes implemented by the company, Castlebeck confirmed that more than a third of its operational managers had been replaced.

Last night, Darlington Borough Council, which is a member of the local safeguarding adults board, said it took information about abuse and neglect extremely seriously.

A spokeswoman said: “The council is fully aware of the issues in relation to Castlebeck and will continue to work with other agencies to ensure the safety of vulnerable adults.”

The CQC said its inspectors had visited all Castlebeck establishments in the North- East in the past 15 months.

A spokesman said: “We are aware of incidents reported at these Castlebeck units and have been monitoring their performance closely.”