Northern Ireland news

Belfast Trust 'apologises unreservedly' to Muckamore patients and families

The Belfast trust has said it "apologises unreservedly to those patients and to their families who have been affected by treatment which falls significantly below acceptable professional standards"
John Monaghan

THE Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has said it "wishes to apologise unreservedly" to patients and their families at Muckamore Abbey Hospital following the suspension of more than a dozen staff amid allegations of ill-treatment.

Muckamore, near Antrim town, is the north's main hospital for adults with severe learning disabilities.

Last night police revealed that three staff members have been interviewed by detectives and that 42 allegations are being investigated.

Superintendent Ryan Henderson said police were working closely with the trust about the allegations.

"We are currently carrying out investigations into 42 incidents; three members of staff have been interviewed by police and reports sent to the Public Prosecution Service.

"Our investigation is ongoing."

The Irish News revealed yesterday how an abuse probe has led to an unprecedented number of nurses being suspended and a police investigation.

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News of suspensions first emerged last November but the trust has now confirmed that a further nine staff have been suspended in the last week.

Agency nurses have been drafted in from England to provide emergency cover.

It is understood that most of the allegations are linked to the psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU).

CCTV footage allegedly shows patients being struck by staff, kneed in the testicles, and pulled to the floor by the hair.

Muckamore Abbey Hospital is at the centre of a police investigation into allegations of ill-treatment of patients by staff. Picture by Mark Marlow

There have also been claims of 'unauthorised seclusion' and adults being left in the dark without supervision.

The trust said last night that it is meeting the families to "apologise to them directly" for treatment which "falls significantly below acceptable professional standards and which our patients have every right to expect".

A spokeswoman said: "As part of the ongoing investigation and a review of archived CCTV footage, a further number of past incidents have been brought to our attention in the last week.

"Due to the serious nature of this evidence, we have taken immediate action to suspend nine staff - the majority of whom are nurses - and we are currently in the process of interviewing 10 further staff who were reported to us as witnesses to these events.

"Belfast trust has secured the services of an expert panel – which includes a carer – to independently review the standard of care in Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

"This regrettable and unacceptable situation in no way reflects the work of our 500 dedicated and professional staff who provide excellent care every day to the 80 patients in Muckamore."

Former health minister Edwin Poots, whose late brother was cared for in Muckamore. Picture by Justin Kernoghan

Former DUP health minister Edwin Poots, whose late brother was cared for in Muckamore, said the investigation should be allowed to take its course.

The Lagan Valley MLA said: "Muckamore Abbey Hospital is a facility providing care for people with the severest learning difficulties.

"It is an extremely challenging working environment and I have had personal experience with family members who have received and deliver such care.

"Concerns have now been raised and it is important that any investigation is allowed to take its course."

Sinn Féin disability spokeswoman Michaela Boyle called for an urgent meeting with the Belfast trust and said: "We were aware of an increased use of agency staff and the detrimental impact this could have on the standard of care over a long period of time.

"However, the issues being reported deserved to be investigated fully and it is right we give space for this to be done.

"What we need most is a robust investigation into these safeguarding issues and full disclosure and openness in how this has been handled."

Ulster Unionist South Antrim MLA Steve Aiken described the allegations as "very concerning" and added that he was also seeking a meeting with the trust.

The campaign group NI Patient Voice tweeted: "Issue with Muckamore is that there has been a large number of whistleblowers over the years and these stories keep appearing in the media.

"However nothing as shocking and disturbing as (Thursday's Irish News) story. We thought 'seclusion' was no longer used at Muckamore from 2005."

Margaret Kelly, director of Mencap NI, said: “We are deeply shocked at the news of a major police investigation into abuse of people with a learning disability at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

"Patients at Muckamore Abbey are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, many have severe and complex needs and have been living at the hospital most of their lives. It is vital that the abuse of vulnerable people with a learning disability is not tolerated, and those individuals responsible are held to account."

News of the suspensions came after a whistleblower claimed that staff were suffering violent assaults by patients, and criticised lack of action by trust managers.

Figures from the trust show that over the last five years a total of 224 staff at Muckamore took stress-related leave.

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