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Analysis: Calls for public inquiry by Muckamore families must be heeded

Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim has been criticised in a damning report by experts. Picture by Mal McCann

BY 1964, Muckamore Abbey hospital had become such a success story that the Co Antrim facility had its own cinema and radio station.

A school had opened four years earlier and a self-contained "village community" thrived, with families offered respite in little 'villas' where staff also lived for a period.

Close to Antrim town, the hospital's opening in the early 1950s signalled a new era in the care of young people and adults in Northern Ireland with a learning disability - and meant they were finally removed from 'mental hospitals'.

It is all the more tragic then that almost seven decades later, the publication of a confidential report into abuse at Muckamore reveals a place where the lives of its incredibly vulnerable patients were "compromised" due to the catastrophic failings of staff.

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Since July, allegations of horrendous abuse and humiliation at the regional facility were made public after a whistle-blower contacted this newspaper to raise the alarm about disturbing images captured on CCTV involving physical mistreatment of seriously ill patients by staff at an ICU ward.

Police have also admitted privately to families that the scale of the scandal is "worse than Winterbourne View".

The NHS expert report endorses the PSNI view.

One of the most distressing aspects of the probe is the testimonies of relatives who placed their trust in highly skilled staff at the hospital, during one of the worst times in their lives - when they could longer care for their loved ones at home.

The guilt of one parent who described how their relative, who couldn't speak, appeared to rub their leg or knee as if to indicate abuse, is heartwrenching.

But every bit as alarming is the discovery of the 'culture' that existed - where patients files containing abuse allegations went missing, where nepotism was reportedly rife and where the serious concerns of families and patients were dismissed as "implausible".

If it were not for the emergence of CCTV evidence it remains highly unlikely that these allegations would have been proven.

The families are rightly calling for a public inquiry.

In the absence of a government, it is time for the most senior civil servants at the Department of Health to act - and put right this terrible wrong.

Timeline: How The Irish News broke the story of the scale of abuse

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