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Three Muckamore nurses now suspended by their professional body from working for next 18 months

Nurse James Houston has received an 18-month suspension from the NMC along with two other nurses
Seanín Graham

THREE nurses who are among more than a dozen staff suspended from a Co Antrim hospital at the centre of an abuse probe have now been banned from working in the health service for the next 18 months.

Earlier this week, The Irish News revealed that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), held a private hearing in Belfast at which a nurse, James Houston, received an 'interim' order which prevents him from working in the NHS or private sector.

Mr Houston had been based at Muckamore Abbey hospital in Co Antrim, a regional facility which cares for adults with severe learning disabilities, and which is currently being investigated by police and the NHS following allegations of patients being abused by staff.

It has now emerged that another two Muckamore based nurses, Stephen Nixon and Patrick McAllister, also received 18-month suspensions following two separate hearings between Wednesday and Friday.

In all three cases, a lawyer representing the NMC made an application for the details to be dealt with in private, arguing that the ongoing PSNI probe and NHS safeguarding investigation outweighed any public interest and could be prejudicial.

A fourth hearing remained ongoing yesterday afternoon.

It is understood the scale of the interim suspensions relating to one hospital in such a short timeframe is unprecedented in Northern Ireland.

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.

All three men were referred by their employer and a full NMC hearing is still to take place while the regulator carries out its own investigation.

The professional body says it exists "to protect the public".

The development comes three weeks after the Irish News reported on allegations of serious abuse at the hospital, with CCTV footage dating back more than a year apparently showing nurses striking vulnerable patients.

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.

On Tuesday, 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 Muckamore.

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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