Calls for government to end abuse in hospitals after harrowing BBC Panorama documentary

Last night (22 May) BBC aired their undercover investigation into the abuse and mistreatment of vulnerable adults during their stay at Whorlton Hall, County Durham. It made for appalling viewing and Enable is backing the call for change.

The specialist hospital was part of a two-month undercover report from BBC Panorama, following up from their expose of abuse at Winterbourne View, another specialist hospital, eight years earlier.


Journalist Olivia Davies posed as a member of staff recording shocking and harrowing footage depicting autistic patients, or those with learning disabilities, being deliberately provoked by staff and experiencing physical restraints – on one instance a patient was restrained for 32 minutes.

After the initial scandal of Winterbourne View, the government promised to reform care for the most vulnerable in society.

Now, campaigners, families and whistle-blowers say the government has failed on this promise.   

The government has recently closed its Transforming Care programme and now charities, such as the National Autistic Society, want the abuse of vulnerable adults in specialist hospitals to change.


The National Autistic Society is calling on autistic people and people with a learning disability to be declared as #HumanToo by the government and ensure human rights are safeguarded; immediately commit to make money available to create adequate community services for disabled adults; change the wording of the definition of ‘mental disorder’ under the Mental Health Act – an issue Enable has previously investigated – and establish accountability across the government to ensure the steps are taken.

A petition was launched at the end of the documentary, which at time of writing has 1,228 signatures calling for change. 

And change is necessary. The documentary followed several patients, including Alex, who is autistic and has challenging behaviour.

Upon watching what her daughter has experienced, Alex’s mum called on BBC Panorama to show their footage far and wide to ensure this doesn’t happen to another family.

Please note, the below footage does contain some distressing images.


During the documentary – that had extremely hard to watch scenes – reporter Olivia witnessed two male staff signalling out a female patient for extensive mental and physical abuse.

The patient, who was known to be agitated and anxious around males, was regularly seen to have men coming into her room in an overpowering and intimidating manner.

This has been described as “psychological torture” by Glynis Murphy, professor of clinical psychology and disability at Kent University’s Tizard Centre, who participated in the documentary.

Statistics show that one million people live with a learning disability or are on the autism spectrum.

From the learning disabled community, 2,245 people are in hospital, with 58 per cent of patients in specialist hospitals for over two years. There has been a reported 31,470 cases of restraint and seclusion used in 2018 alone.

The time for change is imminent. Take the time to sign the petition here to help make a difference.

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