A COMPANY which runs an independent hospital in the region has pulled out of land deal talks, prompting speculation over its future.

Darlington-based Castlebeck Care operates Whorlton Hall Independent Hospital, in Whorlton, near Barnard Castle, which caters for patients with learning disabilities and complex needs.

The company also owns land used as a village play area plus an adjacent plot which Whorlton Parish Council has been seeking to buy and develop as an extension to the village cemetery.

However, at a meeting of the parish council on Monday, an email from the company's head of property, Tom Wilson, stated: “Castlebeck is currently going through a sale process and as such the ultimate decision towards progressing the sale of the land for extension of the cemetery will not now be with ourselves, or even our current bankers.”

Parish council chairman David Kinch said: “What they are saying is that it looks like we are going to have to go with the new owners, if and when they find them.”

Whorlton Hall has 26 bedrooms. The hospital is staffed by a home manager, deputy manager, specialist nurses, support workers, activities co-ordinator, secretary, chef, house keeper and general assistants.

There are staff present 24-hours a day, seven days a week and a registered nurse is always on duty.

Castlebeck Care is also the company responsible for Winterbourne View, the Bristol hospital where the inhumane and abusive treatment of patients was exposed by a BBC Panorama investigation.

Since then, the company has undertaken an extensive review of its operations.

A spokesman said: “Castlebeck's new board and management team have made the continuity of the highest standards of care at Whorlton Hall and throughout the group their first priority.

“As a responsible team and as part of the turnaround of the group, a number of options for the future have been and are being considered.”

He added: “In these circumstances, entering into binding negotiations with the parish council over land owned by Castlebeck but important to the community would be inappropriate.

“There are no reasons for there to be any speculation over the future of Whorlton Hall where a number of initiatives in models of care involving service users and their families are being developed.”