Another scandal in a Cygnet service

Another scandal in a Cygnet service means more individuals suffering abuse in services where they should be supported and cared for.

Exposed abuse

Over 9 years ago, BBC Panorama exposed the abuse of people with learning disabilities in an independent hospital,  Winterbourne View hospital, run by Castlebeck. The government publicly committed to ‘Transform Care’. Despite this commitment a year ago a second abuse scandal was exposed by Panorama at Whorlton Hall, an independent service run by Cygnet- which it had recently purchased from Danshellformerly Castlebeck. 

The Government missed its own target to Transform Care in March 2019, the programme was extended, and the next target also missed.   

Another abuse scandal has now been exposed in a Cygnet service – Yew Trees, (another former Danshell service) where CCTV footage showed staff physically and emotionally abusing patients. Ten staff (8 permanent and 2 agency) have now been suspended due to allegations of abusing patients, treating patients inappropriately, using excessive force or failing to report poor practice.    

CBF statement

Viv Cooper, CEO The Challenging Behaviour Foundation said   

“Another scandal in a Cygnet service means more individuals suffering abuse in services where they should be supported and cared for. It is yet more evidence that care has not been transformed, and commissioners are buying expensive places in services that are causing harm. Who is supporting the individuals affected by this abuse to get the support that they need? Who is ensuring they are safe? And who at a senior level is being held to account?”  

Despite the Government’s commitment to transforming care and countless promises to address the issues of lack of high quality local community support, this month’s data (published 17th September 2020) shows that care has not transformed, with little change in the number of admissions and 3,860 recorded instances of restrictive interventions,(including physical, prone, mechanical and chemical restraint  (in June 2020), of which 620 were against children. This is likely to be just the “tip of the iceberg” as it is only data for 2 out of 14 private/independent providers and 30 out of 58 NHS providers, with apparently no consequences for failing to provide any data.  

During the pandemic concerns were raised about reports of increased use of seclusion and over-medication, heightened by the risks of reduced family contact and of increasing the likelihood of “closed services” which are known to be high risk environments where abusive cultures develop.     

At a time when the CQC (Care Quality Commission) should have been stepping up and prioritising ways to protect people in known high risk services, they stepped down and stopped unannounced inspections. It was an unannounced inspection that exposed the abuse at Yew Trees. How many more services like Yew Trees are there?  

There is an urgent need for scrutiny of service providers that consistently develop abusive cultures, for a robust and targeted inspection and regulation process and clear lines of accountability. Currently it appears to only be the individuals with learning disabilities who suffer the consequences, the fear, harm and trauma and that has to change.   

The government must use the spending review to invest in proper evidencebased community support for children and adults with learning disabilities and their families to end once and for all the scandal of inappropriate admissions to inpatient units.   

You may wish to read these frequently asked questions about safeguarding or visit the restraint and seclusion page on our website.   



If you are concerned about your relative’s care, see our  webpage for information and where to go for support.

Contact us

If you support someone with a severe learning disability whose behaviour challenges you can contact the CBF Family Support service on 0300 666 0126 or email us at:

Family support service