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Regulator bans Muckamore nurse from working for 18 months

Nurse James Houston has received an 18-month suspension from the NMC
Seanín Graham

A NURSE who worked at a Co Antrim hospital at the centre of an abuse probe was yesterday suspended from working in the NHS or private sector for the next 18 months.

James Houston, who was based at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, appeared before the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) at a four-hour private hearing in Belfast and received the 'interim' suspension order.

Mr Houston, who qualified as a learning disability nurse in 2013 and is from Downpatrick, is one of 13 members of staff currently suspended from the specialist hospital after CCTV footage apparently showed nurses striking adult patients with severe learning disabilities and mental illnesses.

A major police probe is ongoing, with more than 70 'incidents of ill treatment" being examined while two files are currently "under consideration" by the Public Prosecution Service.

Prior to the allegations relating to Mr Houston's work in Muckamore being made public during yesterday's NMC 'interim order hearing', an application was successfully made by a legal representative to have the details of the case heard in private.

The NMC is the professional regulator for nurses and midwives across the UK and says its exists "to protect the public".

A NMC spokesman confirmed that Mr Houston had received an 18-month interim suspension order. His full NMC case is still being investigated following a referral by his employer and full hearing is still to take place.

Nurse James Houston has received an 18-month suspension from the NMC

Interim measures are only used if there are significant concerns about a nurse in relation to patient safety or if there is a risk of harm to the public.

A second nurse, Stephen Nixon, who is also among the 13 staff suspended, also appeared before the NMC yesterday but his case has been adjourned until today.

A similar application was made to have his case heard in private, with a lawyer arguing that the ongoing police and adult safeguarding investigations "outweigh the public interest" in having the allegations made public.

But a campaigner for patients' rights last night criticised the apparent lack of transparency around the regulatory hearings and said distressed families of Muckamore patients "didn't even know they were taking place".

"You would have expected this information to be in the public domain so the families can at least know the identity of those linked to the allegations," said Aidan Hanna of NI Patient Voice said.

"But interim orders aren't even publicised on the NMC website. When they do take place, they have the right to make them private."

Earlier this week, the father of a vulnerable patient at Muckamore who was allegedly punched in the stomach by a staff member, criticised the 'drip-feed' of information from the Belfast health trust, which is responsible for the Co Antrim facility.

An investigation was first ordered a year ago after his son was allegedly assaulted. Over the past month, trust officials have confirmed there are 26 'incidents' relating to his son captured on archived CCTV.

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