Intended for healthcare professionals


Whorlton Hall: a predictable tragedy?

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 23 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4705

Linked BMJ Opinion

We must listen to, respect, and value people with learning difficulties

  1. Glynis Murphy, professor of clinical psychology and disability
  1. Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
  1. G.H.Murphy{at}

Vulnerable adults were badly let down

On 22 May 2019, a BBC documentary showed footage from a reporter working undercover in Whorlton Hall, an assessment and treatment unit for people with learning disabilities or autism who have complex needs such as challenging behaviour. The clips showed staff deliberately taunting, threatening, and provoking people detained in the unit under the Mental Health Act. People were shown in extreme distress after deliberate exposure to completely avoidable triggers.

Staff were seen restraining individuals on the floor, often for long periods and with other staff looking on. They instigated arbitrary punishments such as removing people’s possessions from their rooms and routinely used sexually explicit language and gestures. And yet the Care Quality Commission (CQC) had previously rated the service as good.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because similar events were exposed by a previous documentary in 2011 following undercover reporting in Winterbourne View, another assessment and treatment unit for people with learning disabilities or autism and complex needs. Both units were technically classed as hospitals, …

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