Northern Ireland news

Department of Health apologises for Dunmurry Manor scandal

Dunmurry Manor Care was severely criticised in an investigation into care standards
Seanin Graham

A FORTNIGHT after the publication of an investigation into a Belfast care home, the most senior civil servant at the Department of Health has for the first time issued a public apology for “unacceptable failings”.

Permanent secretary Richard Pengelly also announced measures to “restore public confidence” after horrendous neglect and abuse of vulnerable residents was exposed at Dunmurry Manor care home.

Severe criticism has been levelled at the health service over its handling of the scandal, with families protesting outside the RQIA regulator’s office last week following its chief executive’s insistence the organisation “did not fail” in its legal duty to investigate concerns.

Relatives also expressed disappointment that no apology or personal contact had been made by health chiefs.

The report by the Commissioner for Older People found there was a “horrific catalogue of inhuman and degrading treatment” at the 76-bedded facility, which opened four years ago and was repeatedly inspected by the watchdog.

Health service bodies, including the department, were also castigated by Commissioner Eddie Lynch about their response to whistleblower complaints and the inspection process.

Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly has issued a public apology to residents and relatives affected by the Dunmurry Manor Care home failings

Mr Pengelly yesterday said failings “in the past” – the home was recently given a clean bill of health – were a matter of “extreme regret” for “everyone in the Health and Social Care (HSC) system”.

“In publicly saying sorry to residents and families who were let down, I must acknowledge that words alone are not enough. Action must, and will, be taken to ensure that failings are not repeated,” he said.

“The primary responsibility for care and standards in homes run by the independent sector rests, of course, with the care home provider.

Staff 'threatened' in wake of Dunmurray Manor report 

“But Dunmurry Manor must serve as a stark reminder to the HSC system of its important responsibilities.” 

Two days before the release of the commissioner’s probe, the department released a largely positive review it had commissioned into the RQIA regulator’s role in monitoring care at the home – a move which “distressed” families.

Calls have been made for resignations and more accountability across the health service, but to date no-one has stepped down from their posts.

Senior officials from trusts, the RQIA and the department met yesterday to discuss the crisis.

Measures ordered to improve standards include:

  • Independent review of health service bodies’ “actions” after Dunmurry Manor failings discovered.
  • ‘Potential’ sanctions for private care home companies who run homes with “serious failings”.
  • Public campaign to raise awareness as to how care residents and relatives can make complaints.
  • Creation of new nursing post in Public Health Agency dedicated to working with private care home companies to “enhance” safe care.
  • Investment of £325,000 to NHS nurses providing support to private homes. Further £80,000 to meet “complex nursing care needs” in homes.

Mr Lynch said he was pleased that “families have now received an apology” after being “let down” by the system. He welcomed the department’s plan to make improvement, but added: “I have yet to see evidence that will assure me that these failings are confined to the past.

“My focus is now on ensuring that all of the relevant authorities provide a comprehensive response to my 59 recommendations over the next two-and-a-half months, detailing clear action plans which will bring about the required changes across the system.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the South Eastern Trust, which referred many patients to the home and was criticised in the report and by families, also released a statement yesterday to “provide reassurance for those who are affected and have concerns”.

“The trust absolutely recognises there are lessons to be learnt from the events in Dunmurry Manor for all parts of the system,” she said. 

“The chief executive acknowledged this at public trust board on Thursday June 21 and apologised for any failings identified which were attributable to the trust.”

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