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Whorlton Hall: Advisers quit government review in protest at CQC’s handling of abuse scandal

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4368 (Published 21 June 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l4368
  1. Anthony Harwood
  1. London

Four members of the government’s review into the use of restraint, seclusion and segregation of people with learning disabilities and autism have resigned in protest at the Care Quality Commission’s handling of the Whorlton Hall scandal.

England’s health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, commissioned the review from the CQC in December 2018 in response to concerns about the treatment of patients in secure hospitals. The CQC released an interim report on the review last month, which said that a high proportion of people in segregation had autism and that many staff lacked the necessary training and skills to look after them. The final report is due in March 2020.

But four members of the review’s expert advisory group have quit after concerns that the CQC failed to highlight abuse at the Whorlton Hall facility in County Durham, which was later exposed by BBC’s Panorama.1

Among those resigning was Sara Ryan, whose 18 year old son, Connor Sparrowhawk, drowned while under the care of an NHS trust.

The resignations were announced on 14 June by Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow minister for mental health and social care. Keeley has criticised the CQC for its “continued reluctance to accept serious failure” and called for an independent inquiry into the regulator to determine whether it was “fit for purpose.”

The CQC has been accused of failing to publish an inspection report on Whorlton Hall in 2015 that contained allegations of bullying and claimed that patients were being secluded without proper processes being in place.

On 12 June the regulator’s chief executive, Ian Trenholm, and deputy chief inspector of hospitals, Paul Lelliott, denied that there had been a cover up when appearing before the parliamentary joint select committee on human rights.2

The testimony prompted the resignations of Ryan, Julie Newcombe, the co-founder of the campaign group Rightful Lives, Chris Hatton, professor of public health and disability at Lancaster University, and Jeremy (whose surname cannot be disclosed after a court ruling), the father of 17 year old Bethany, who was kept in seclusion at an assessment and treatment unit in Northampton.

Announcing his resignation on Twitter, Hatton wrote, “I am aghast at how the @CareQualityComm has behaved concerning Whorlton Hall, & your performance at the @HumanRightsCtte this afternoon means that my further involvement is at best pointless and at worst lending the CQC false legitimacy.”

Ryan added: “And mine please. That was an exemplar in blame shifting, response ducking and little thought of patients harmed. A chilling and shameful absence of integrity.”

Jeremy, Bethany’s father, said, “It was my daughter’s case and my meeting with @MattHancock that prompted the review. Honesty, trust and integrity are massively important to me. I said I felt dirtied over the way you released the interim report. To hear your lame excuses and your pathetic reasoning over the Whorlton Hall scandal sickened me. You released interim recommendations without the Expert Advisory Group discussing them. I won’t be part of another cover up.”

In a letter to the CQC after the evidence session, Keeley wrote, “I share the view being expressed by a number of people that you and Paul Lelliott were evasive on the real issues and seemed determined to protect your own organisation’s reputation rather than the needs of people who use the services you inspect.

“The fact that family members and experts in this area should feel so let down by your handling of this scandal that they resign from this group should give you serious cause for concern.”

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