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Health watchdog receives 'intelligence' about 'unacceptable' staffing levels at scandal-hit Muckamore Abbey Hospital

Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim caters for adults with severe learning disabilities. Picture by Mal McCann
Seanin Graham

NORTHERN Ireland’s health watchdog has revealed it has received “intelligence” about inadequate staffing levels on a ward at the scandal-hit Muckamore Abbey Hospital this weekend.

Olive Macleod, chief executive of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), told The Irish News she was "seeking an urgent assurance” from the Belfast health trust as to “how it intends to rectify this unacceptable position”.

Her warning on Wednesday followed a tip-off about ‘adult safeguarding’ in relation to nursing cover planned for a ward with 11 vulnerable adults with severe learning disabilities this Saturday.

Olive Macleod, chief executive of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority

A newly-qualified nurse who became registered seven weeks ago will be in charge of a ward, with a back-up of only one agency nurse and two healthcare support workers.

It is understood a ward with this number of patients with such complex and challenging conditions would normally require up to 12 nurses.

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The Co Antrim hospital for adults with severe learning disabilities is currently at the centre of the biggest criminal adult safeguarding probe in the north after CCTV images emerged which showed staff physically abusing patients between March and September last year.

A total of 13 staff are currently suspended, eight of whom are nurses. It emerged earlier this week that a damning probe had concluded patients’ lives were put at risk.

In an interview with The Irish News on Wednesday, the most senior nurse at the Belfast trust, Brenda Creaney, was asked if she was aware of the severe staff shortages at the ward this Saturday and if she thought the ‘four person’ team headed up by a relatively inexperienced nurse was appropriate given the major safeguarding concerns at Muckamore.

“On the face of it, no,” she replied.

Brenda Creaney is director of nursing at the Belfast health trust. Picture by Hugh Russell

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She admitted that “we do have staffing issues in Muckamore Abbey Hospital” but that “the staffing ratio is dependent on the time of day and the dependency of patients on an ongoing basis.”

Ms Creaney, who is the director of nursing at the north's biggest trust, confirmed she had been made aware of the RQIA concerns around adult safeguarding in relation to this weekend’s cover.

It is understood Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan contacted Ms McMacleod on Tuesday concerned about staffing arrangements at Muckamore.

In correspondence, seen by The Irish News to Mr Sheehan, dated December 12, Ms Macleod confirms the information he has passed to her is accurate.

"I have now received confirmation from the Belfast HSC Trust that your source is correct and RQIA is currently seeking an urgent assurance from the Trust as to how it intends to rectify this unacceptable position".

Mr Sheehan, who is the party's health spokesman, also described the situation as unacceptable and said it raised questions about "managerial oversight".

"We have received assurances over the past week from the trust that the care is Muckamore is now excellent but the fact this young nurse, who is just out of her time, was to be left in charge of a ward with so many patients with very challenging conditions and with so little staff raises major concerns about safeguarding once again at Muckamore," he said.

"I have also been made aware of other safeguarding complaints regarding patient restraint which I intend to follow up."

The Irish News also asked Ms Creaney if she had been made aware of any recent complaints regarding inappropriate use of physical restraint of patients at Muckamore.

She said she was unaware of this and urged staff with worries to "come to her personally".

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