Father of man 'punched in stomach' at Muckamore hospital demands action
A telephone call last August about allegations of abuse on a hospital patient with the mental capacity of a two-year-old left a family reeling and set in motion one of Northern Ireland's biggest safeguarding investigations. A year on, the patient's father tells health correspondent Seanín Graham why he is demanding prosecutions.
ALMOST three weeks ago, Belfast health trust officials sat in the living room of a Co Down family's home and admitted the full scale of an abuse scandal triggered by an incident involving their severely mentally disabled son.
The unprecedented request to meet the couple came a year after they received a call informing them of an alleged "incident" relating to a staff member "physically assaulting" their 21-year-old son while he was a patient in a psychiatric Intensive Care Unit in Muckamore Abbey hospital.
Their third child, who they had cared for at home until last May when he became too ill to manage, had been allegedly 'punched in the stomach' by a healthcare professional.
Senior Muckamore management insisted the incident was a "one-off" and told the family there was no recorded footage - despite CCTV being installed at the hospital.
Minutes seen by The Irish News of a meeting with the patient's father last August also reveal there was a two-week delay in informing them about the alleged assault.
The Co Down man said he pursued the matter with police and learned that CCTV recordings of the incident did in fact exist.
His son has the mental capacity of a two-year-old and cannot speak.
"I was horrified. I have always protected my son and was given assurances that he was being placed in the best hospital to meet his needs.
"We had no choice but to put him there. What sort of a person hits a severely mentally disabled adult, never mind a specially trained health professional?" said the patient's father, who does not wish to be named.
"When our son went into Muckamore last May he wasn't good but a brilliant consultant treated him and changed his medication over the course of a few month, he is like a lamb now.
"We get him home three days a week and visit him on Saturdays. We are desperate to get him out but because there's no proper community care package for him, they won't discharge him. He can't speak but we know his every mood. When we are taking him back to Muckamore now he makes a distressed sound and is terrified.
"I have no idea what happened in that hospital but my fear is that the longer these investigations go on the least likelihood there is of a prosecution."
Last month's 'home' visit to the family by two senior trust staff coincided with the publication of a story in The Irish News that morning, in which harrowing allegations of abuse at the Co Antrim facility were revealed as well as a record number of nursing suspensions.
Detectives are currently investigating 41 allegations while reports have been sent to the Public Prosecution Service. The highest level NHS Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) probe remains ongoing.
The Co Down man said up until last month he has been "kept in the dark" about his son's case due to 'data protection' and the police investigation.
But it has now emerged that archive CCTV footage has been linked to 26 allegations of horrific physical and verbal abuse of his child as well as bullying and taunting between May and August last year.
Tipping him up out of a soft rocking chair so he couldn't stand up, pushing him against the wall as he tried to watch Disney films and locking him outside are some of the 'incidents' allegedly recorded.
Trust officials also confirmed that his son, who cannot speak, was 'passive' throughout the alleged attacks and showed no aggression toward staff.
Counselling has been offered by the Belfast trust to his mother, who has been unable to sleep since the scandal broke.
"There has been a drip-feed of information from the trust since the newspaper story was published and just yesterday they confirmed a further six incidents as they have a team trawling through the CCTV footage from last year," the Co Down man added.
"I keep asking for the identity of the person who allegedly physically attacked my son but they won't even tell me if it was a nurse or a care assistant due to data protection and the fact all these other investigations are going on. I am the parent and I know nothing.
"I don't have confidence in the authorities over the way this has been handled. I had to constantly go to them and demand information. I just don't understand how something that was ordered exactly a year ago can still be going on without prosecutions if recordings exist.
"When I first got the call last August alarm bells rang. Prior to that they would have rang us on an almost daily basis about basic observations of my son. But now they were telling me that reports of a physical assault had taken place a fortnight earlier. They apologised and said there was no bruising of my son - but admitted a medical examination didn't take place for a fortnight."
Over the past year, the Co Down man has contacted the health watchdog, the RQIA, the police and the independent expert heading up the SAI report into the allegations.
He also requested written minutes of the meeting held last year between himself and senior trust management last August. He received the minutes earlier this month.
They reveal that a senior Muckamore manager describes the distress caused to family following the delay in reporting the abuse as "indefensible".
The Co Down man compared the slow pace of the probe with the Winterbourne scandal in Bristol, when six care workers were jailed a year after an undercover BBC Panorama reporter filmed abuse of disabled residents in a care facility in 2011.
"If this type of action can take place in England surely the authorities can do something here?," he said.
"In the meantime, we have a son who hates you taking him back to place where he is supposed to be safe. Our hearts are broken."