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Friends of Muckamore 'totally shocked' by abuse probe

Muckamore Abbey Hospital is at the centre of a police investigation into allegations of ill-treatment of patients by staff

A GROUP representing the families and friends of patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital has said it is "totally shocked" following the suspension of more than a dozen staff amid allegations of ill-treatment.

Police have said that three staff members have been interviewed by detectives and that 42 allegations are being investigated.

Muckamore, near Antrim town, is the north's main hospital for adults with severe learning disabilities.

The Irish News revealed on Thursday how an abuse probe has led to an unprecedented number of nurses being suspended and a police investigation.

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News of suspensions first emerged last November but the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT) has confirmed that a further nine staff have been suspended in the last week.

The trust said that it is meeting the families to "apologise to them directly" for treatment which "falls significantly below acceptable professional standards and which our patients have every right to expect".

Chairman of The Society of Parents and Friends at Muckamore Abbey Billy Moore

Billy Moore, from the Society of the Parents and Friends of Muckamore Abbey, said that Muckamore is "not the happy place it used to be".

"We were totally shocked. This is not what we expected of staff in Muckamore. We are just at a loss," he told the BBC.

"The trust has stated that it is going to get in contact with parents and carers but as yet we have had no answers.

"We were told that they were dealing with the situation..the Trust have not reacted.

"It doesn't do morale a lot of good. The staff are scared of going in and doing their job."

Mr Moore added: "My brother was there for over 50 years and there was not a better place for him. Muckamore is not the happy place it used to be."

Two trade unions have also said they are continuing to support their members at the hospital.

More than a dozen staff have been suspended from Muckamore Abbey Hospital since last November, including nine in the last week. Picture by Mark Marlow

NIPSA called for a "robust and impartial" investigation and urged the media "not to sensationalise" issues.

"It is important that the media in reporting alleged incidents, in which no wrongdoing has been established, do not sensationalise issues when investigations into many of these allegations have barely begun," it said.

"Such reporting has an undermining and negative impact on the dedicated staff group in this hospital, who in our experience, strive on a daily basis to deliver the highest quality of care possible at Muckamore Abbey Hospital."

NIPSA said that many staff had suffered distress and "on occasion lifelong injuries" after "intervening in incidents".

"In our view, the care and welfare of both patients and staff has been compromised, as BHSCT has not fully staffed Muckamore Abbey Hospital at the required level for some years," it said.

"There has been an over reliance on bank and agency staff across wards and the removal of staff from day care services to shore up shortages elsewhere in the hospital.

"This is not to condone staff stepping outside established protocols and policies that are in place to contribute to the management of challenging behaviours when they arise."

A group representing the parents and friends of Muckamore patients has said the hospital is "not the happy place it used to be". Picture by Mark Marlow

Unison said it is "supporting all our members at the hospital during this period" but added that it will be "making no further comment at this time".

It is understood that most of the allegations are linked to the psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU).

CCTV footage allegedly shows patients being struck by staff, kneed in the testicles, and pulled to the floor by the hair.

There have also been claims of 'unauthorised seclusion' and adults being left in the dark without supervision.

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