Healthcare news

Muckamore 'seclusion' room to be scrapped amid outcry

Marie Heaney, director of adult social care at the Belfast Trust. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

THE controversial seclusion room at Muckamore Abbey hospital is "going to be removed", a Belfast health trust chief revealed at a private meeting three months ago.

Marie Heaney, director of adult social care at the Belfast health trust, made the claim after being probed by a concerned parent whose vulnerable son had been placed in seclusion 53 times over a three-and-a-half month period last year.

The room has been repeatedly compared to 'jail' by patients and their families.

The Irish News revealed in October that three vulnerable patients at Muckamore had "spent their lives" in seclusion in 2015. The room is only supposed to be used for short periods to manage seriously ill patients who are displaying difficult behaviour.

Ms Heaney made her comments at a meeting in mid-September in front of two of the most senior officials at the Department of Health - Sean Holland and Chris Matthews - as well as the DUP’s Gavin Robinson.

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The father-of-four also attended - and made detailed notes after the briefing.

Expressing his anger at the failure of the trust to provide him with information, he said he had been forced to “go down the FOI route” to get details on how many times his 22-year-old non-verbal son had been kept in seclusion.

"I was told that my son was in the seclusion room for periods of two hours, there’s nothing in it, no toilet, it’s a disgrace,” he told Ms Heaney.

He added: "I wanted to know how long was he in, was it backed up by appropriate paperwork and who authorised it. I wanted to know if it compiled with human rights laws".

Ms Heaney agreed the use of the seclusion room was not appropriate and that would be borne out in an independent report. The report was published last week but only given to families.

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Responding to the parent’s questions about the management of the seclusion room, she admitted the “record keeping” was not adequate, adding: “We’re removing the seclusion room at PICU (psychiatric Intensive Care Unit)".

The Belfast health trust director said that she had been informed by police the previous week (in September) that the trust had now more freedom to give information to families.

“Until recently the PSNI… didn’t want any information released in detail under a ‘joint protocol’. We’re now in a position to share (written) information with families," she said.

Ms Heaney told the man the CCTV had captured a “final total of 30” incidents of ill-treatment of his son.

However, two months later a trust official telephoned the man to say they had since found a total of 43 incidents.

The trust refused to provide any other detail but the number.

Mr Holland, who is the chief social worker in the north, insisted during the meeting that it is now the department's 'expectation' that relatives should not "at this stage" have to go down the FOI route for information on their loved ones who have been abused - unless the police advise against it.

Records showed a total of 21 patients were subject to 859 periods of seclusion three years ago in Muckamore, with 90 per cent of those involving three patients. Two years later, 15 patients experienced 616 periods of seclusion - involving two of the same patients.

The Irish News asked the Belfast trust about the removal of the seclusion room.

A spokesman replied: "The trust's seclusion policy in relation to Muckamore Abbey Hospital is currently under review by a multi-disciplinary team which will fully engage with patients, carers and staff".

He added: "Ms Heaney has met with this parent on a number of occasions as has the PSNI. The report has also been shared with this parent".

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