But the Care Quality Commission denied claims it is “hampered by bureaucracy and red tape” and said it was increasing the numbers of inspections being carried out.
The CQC admitted it failed to respond to at least two warnings from a former nurse about the treatment of vulnerable adults at Winterbourne View residential hospital, in Bristol, and issued an “unreserved apology” earlier this week.
The apology came as the Government ordered a report into how warnings of systematic abuse towards patients at Winterbourne View were not acted upon by local authorities and the CQC following secret filming by BBC Panorama.
Yesterday an inspector working for the CQC claimed the regulator was understaffed and unable to make the necessary inspections.
The source told reporters that inspections of hospitals had been sidelined and the CQC was “completely hampered by bureaucracy and red tape”.
He said: “We are so deskbound that inspectors are unable to do what they are supposedly paid to do - inspect.
“What was uncovered at Winterbourne is a direct result of this.”
He added the CQC was more interested in IT systems and admin skills than ensuring social care was up to scratch and the number of inspections carried out had decreased due to a lack of inspectors.
The employee said he was carrying out two or three inspections a week a few years ago but was now only doing that many in a month.
A CQC spokeswoman said inspection rates had fallen but were now on the rise again.
“Inspection activity has dropped to lower levels while we have been engaged in registering care providers under the new regulatory system required by the Health and Social Care Act 2008.
“This process has involved assessing all providers to check that they meet essential standards of quality and safety designed to protect people receiving care.
“It is a big job and we had to concentrate our resources accordingly.
“The rate of inspections is now rising again, although it is too early to say at what level it will settle. Our aim is still to review every home at least two-yearly and for the great majority this will involve a site visit.
“CQC is dedicated to ensuring safe and effective care and does not spend money on systems at the expense of inspections. IT systems exist to support the inspection regime.”
The concerns reported today followed claims by whistle-blower Terry Bryan who had made complaints to managers at Winterbourne View residential hospital and the health watchdog but his concerns were not followed up.
The former nurse noted how staff restrained patients “with smiles on the faces” and seemed to “relish restraint procedures”.
Mr Bryan quit after his concerns were ignored and raised them with the BBC whose Panorama team filmed undercover showing patients being pinned down, slapped, doused in cold water and repeatedly taunted and teased.
Avon and Somerset Police have arrested four members of staff at Winterbourne View. Wayne Rogers, 30, from Hanham, Bristol, Graham Doyle, 25, from Bradley Stoke, Bristol, Allison Dove, 24, and a 40-year-old man have been released on bail.
They were shown on the Panorama programme appearing to taunt and abuse the vulnerable adults in their care.
The hospital’s owner, Castlebeck, has also suspended 13 members of staff.