Northern Ireland news

Muckamore continuing to provide long-term care despite drive to end 'institutional' settings

Many learning disability patients with challenging conditions cannot be discharged from hospital due to the lack of dedicated packages in the community setting
Seanín Graham

MUCKAMORE Abbey has been a hospital for people with learning disabilities for almost 60 years.

The majority of adults admitted to the facility outside Antrim are detained under the Mental Health Order, which means they suffer serious psychiatric illnesses or profoundly challenging behaviour in addition to severe learning disabilities.

Since the mid-1980s, numbers in the hospital have reduced dramatically in line with a government drive to ensure that such patients are not in long-term institutional care.

However, the original target that all vulnerable patients in long-stay specialist hospitals would be resettled in the community by 2002 was never met by the Department of Health.

That pledge was made in 1997 and continually revised - with the most recent target set for last summer.


By last November, a total of 65 Muckamore patients were still classed as 'long-stay' by the Belfast trust, with one adult residing there for 15,471 days (42 years).

For many patients, the serious nature of their condition and lack of funding in the community setting means no alternative package exists for them to be discharged to nursing homes or group living arrangements.

Estimates suggest that there are around 13,000 adults with a learning disability in Northern Ireland, and it is anticipated that this figure will increase over the coming years, particularly those with more complex needs.

The average cost of a bed is around £158,940.

There are around 500 staff based in Muckamore Abbey Hospital. This includes administration workers, nursing staff, doctors, social workers and support staff.

Over last five years a total of 224 Muckamore staff took stress-related leave, according to figures provided by the Belfast health trust.

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