Regulator suspends three nurses linked to Muckamore Abbey Hospital
PRIVATE hearings into nurses linked to the Muckamore Abbey Hospital abuse scandal have led to three being suspended from working in the NHS "to protect patients and the public".
The Irish News has learned that fresh hearings by the regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), concluded last Wednesday - five months after a group of nurses successfully took legal action in the High Court and had their temporary bans lifted.
In what was seen as a hugely embarrassing move for the NMC, the professional body was forced to remove 18-month suspensions from seven nurses in February after a judge ruled there was a lack of evidence from their employer, the Belfast health trust.
A further two suspensions were removed in March, following a separate legal challenge.
Families of vulnerable patients who were allegedly abused at the Co Antrim hospital described the trust's handling of the case as "shambolic" while sources said Department of Health chiefs were furious at the move.
The re-ordered NMC hearings involving the same nine individuals have been ongoing since then, with the majority taking place between May and July.
In a statement, the regulator confirmed that three nurses had received 18-month suspensions while the remainder had restrictions placed on their work for the same period.
Matthew McClelland, the NMC Director of Fitness to Practise, said: "Following a number of hearings relating to individual nurses who have previously worked at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, our independent panel has imposed a number of interim orders to protect patients and the public in this case.
"These include three interim suspension orders and six interim conditions of practice orders for a period of 18 months.
"We will continue to work closely with the Belfast trust and the Police Service of Northern Ireland on these matters."
While the nursing regulator has a 'Public Support Service' for family members, one father of a Muckamore patient said he is still concerned about "secrecy" around the investigation.
Glynn Brown from Dundonald first alerted the Department of Health about the scandal after his non-verbal autistic son was reportedly punched by a staff member.
"We are now two years down the road since this all started and I still don't know who has done what to my child... I find that incredible," Mr Brown said.
"As we speak the number of 'incidents' against my son is increasing on a weekly basis, with police reporting up to 100 incidents after viewing CCTV footage. The Belfast trust told me in December it was no more than 48 after their 'robust' review.
"What is most frustrating is the secrecy around this entire inquiry, with me having to chase the NMC and trust for information."
Police are currently investigating more than 300 incidents of alleged ill-treatment of patients at Muckamore, in what is the biggest adult safeguarding investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland.
A total of 20 staff, mainly nurses, have been suspended by the Belfast trust.