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Health watchdog's role under spotlight in the wake of two major abuse probes

Some of the families whose loved ones were cared for in Dunmurry Manor Care Home, where a "horrific catalogue" of care failings were found. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Seanín Graham

IN the three years since a scathing report warned that a tougher health watchdog was required for Northern Ireland, two major scandals involving vulnerable patients have exposed its shortcomings.

The horrendous failings at Dunmurry Manor Care Home, where elderly dementia sufferers were starved and denied medication, were unearthed by the Older People's Commissioner in June which also said the RQIA found the facility 'to be meeting the required standards of care' when 'terrible incidents' were occurring.

While the RQIA's chief executive, Olive Macleod, rejected the criticism levelled at the watchdog - other trusts and NHS bodies were also criticised - the Department of Health apologised for 'unacceptable failings'.

Just one month later, the full scale of the one worst cases of patient abuse emerged at Muckamore Abbey hospital.

The Belfast health trust, which is responsible for the Co Antrim hospital, issued an 'unreserved apology' to those affected - but the RQIA does not accept it failed in relation to safeguarding, instead saying this issue lay outside its remit.

On its website, the regulator defines its role as one that assures the quality of services across the health and social care sector is of a standard 'laid down by the Department...and expected by the public'.

In its response to the query from the Irish News in relation to concerns raised about conditions at Muckamore, the regulator brands abuse as 'unacceptable' but insists abusive behaviours were not displayed during its inspections.

Following these troubling cases, the spotlight will be on a watchdog whose mission is to 'encourage improvement' in our most important front line services.

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