Vulnerable patients at a hospital run by a scandal-hit private company were caught on camera being kicked, slapped and dragged by staff in the latest example of institutional abuse of people with learning disabilities.
The Care Quality Commission said its inspectors watched repeated incidents of abuse filmed by CCTV cameras at the Cygnet Health Care Yew Trees hospital in Essex, which had eight women with learning disabilities in its care.
The company, which reported abuse concerns to the regulator, has now closed the hospital and reported the mistreatment to Essex Police. Eight members of staff were suspended with four since sacked by the company.
The abuse is reminiscent of the scandal at Whorlton Hall in County Durham, where undercover filming showed repeated abuse of patients.
In an unannounced inspection of the hospital in Kirby-le-Soken in July and August, the CQC said: “Some staff subjected patients to emotional and physical abuse.
“We reviewed 21 episodes of closed-circuit television footage and witnessed staff drag, slap and kick a patient. We witnessed staff shove a patient.
"We saw extremely negative interactions where staff visibly became angry with patients, threw items in the vicinity of patients and stood very close to patients with intimidating body language (arms crossed, standing over them)."
An earlier inspection report in April this year described staff as discreet, respectful and responsive when caring for patients.
Nine incidents were captured on CCTV and were seen by other staff who the watchdog said “lacked the confidence and integrity to raise concerns about poor patient care”.
The hospital has been rated inadequate by the watchdog which is also likely to launch further legal action against the hospital and its parent company.
Dr Kevin Cleary, CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health, said: "Our latest inspection of Cygnet Yew Trees revealed that people who lived there were being subjected not only to poor care, but to abuse.
"Some staff who had witnessed this abuse did not escalate it.
"Although they may have feared the consequences of speaking out against colleagues who had abused patients, their failure to act perpetuated abuse and allowed a culture of poor care to become established.
"Cygnet's leadership has made efforts to address the harm people experienced while in its care, including suspending staff and making police referrals.
"This does not change or excuse the fact that a culture was allowed to develop at this hospital which led to people suffering abuse.”
Cygnet Health Care, which owned the now-closed Whorlton Hall, has faced repeated criticism by the regulator.
In January, the Health Service Journal reported the company had 10 hospitals rated inadequate over a 15 month period. The CQC criticised the company’s leadership after a review and called for “immediate action”.
Cygnet Health Care told The Independent it had five hospitals open and rated inadequate out of 140 sites across the country, the majority if which were rated good or outstanding. It added the company was continuing to make changes to improve.
In a statement the company said it identified abuse at the Yew Trees hospital as a result of monitoring CCTV which showed an incident of abuse in July this year. The company said it raised concerns with the CQC as well as the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
A second incident recorded on CCTV led to eight staff and two agency workers being suspended.
The company said: “These included people we believe witnessed the alleged incidents and failed to report them. Four have since been dismissed.
“As an organisation, we recognise that the processes we have in place to protect patients are only effective if we are open and transparent, and we work collaboratively with the CQC and our partners. We actively encourage an open culture in our services and appointed a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian earlier this year. Any failure to accurately record concerns that involve service users is wholly unacceptable to us.
“The safety and wellbeing of the people in our care is our absolute priority, and we are appalled by the actions of this small minority of staff at Yew Trees. As soon as the issues came to light, our managers took steps to support the two patients involved, including to offer specialist support. We are also doing everything we can to assist the authorities to fully investigate what happened.”