People with learning disabilities were hit, pushed and dragged by staff working for an NHS trust in Cornwall, a joint investigation by the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection has found.

People with learning disabilities were hit, pushed and dragged by staff working for an NHS trust in Cornwall, a joint investigation by the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection has found.

People with learning disabilities were hit, pushed and dragged by staff working for an NHS trust in Cornwall, a joint investigation by the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection has found.

Some staff working for Cornwall Partnership trust were also reported to have withheld food and given patients cold showers in what the report that described 'many years' of abusive practices at the trust.

Trust medical director Ken Wood, director of nursing and service governance Mark Steer, and director of finance Blaise Mallon all resigned on Monday in anticipation of the report's findings. The Healthcare Commission has now recommended to health secretary Patricia Hewitt that the trust be put on special measures.

The commission and CSCI now plan to carry out a national audit of all NHS and independent healthcare providers who care for people with learning disabilities. A joint statement said: 'We are not saying the abusive behaviour found in Cornwall is happening everywhere. But sadly Cornwall is not the only service where serious allegations have been made in recent months.'

A joint investigation team looked into services at Budock Hospital near Falmouth, which can treat 18 inpatients, as well as two other treatment centres, four children's units and 46 houses occupied by people with learning disabilities.

Although some staff were found to be caring and well-intended, the report described an 'over-reliance' on medication to control behaviour, as well as illegal and prolonged use of restraint.

One person spent 16 hours a day tied to their bed or wheelchair for what staff wrongly believed was the patient's own protection, and investigators reported that more than two-thirds of sites they visited placed unacceptable restrictions on people living there. In one home taps had been removed, and in another light fittings taken out.

There were also concerns about arrangements on to manage the finances of people living in supported housing and details have been passed on the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service.

The investigation found what it called 'serious and wide-reaching flaws' in the trust's procedures for protecting adults, and it concluded that senior managers failed to identify and correct situations involving physical, emotional and environmental abuse.

As a result of the investigation 40 people were referred to Cornwall County Council under the procedure for the protection of vulnerable adults, but the Healthcare Commission said the council and Cornwall Partnership trust had failed to follow government guidance on investigating allegations of abuse.

Since the investigation, Cornwall Partnership trust has taken disciplinary action against a number of staff and a new chief executive has been appointed. Staff have received extra training, one ward at Budock Hospital has been closed, and two others refurbished.