Northern Ireland news

Vulnerable Muckamore patient tried to escape after ward was shut

Muckamore Abbey Hospital, Co Antrim Picture Mal McCann
Seanín Graham

MUCKAMORE Abbey hospital has been forced to reopen its Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) after a patient tried to escape from an ‘open ward’ he was transferred to at the weekend.

The Irish News has learned that the secure six-bedded PICU, which was shut on Friday night due to a record high number of staff suspensions linked to an abuse scandal, was re-opened yesterday to care for ‘at risk’ patients during day-time hours.

A father of a 22-year-old patient who was in the specialist ICU revealed that senior staff informed him that his son had left the new ward “repeatedly”, and that two to three nurses had to find him.

When the Dundonald man arrived to visit his son on Saturday afternoon, he discovered him in the Co Antrim facility’s car park in a wheelchair being helped by staff.

The father-of-four said he is “terrified” about the risks his son has been exposed to as he has “no awareness of danger” and cannot speak.

“My worry is that the minute your back is turned my son will try to get out – he loves being outside. My suspicion is that he made it outside [on Saturday] and staff were with him. The fear is he could walk outside to a main road and lie down on it,” he said.

“The nurses, who I feel sorry for, say they cannot lock the ward he has been transferred to during the day as its an open ward. I was told that my son spent Saturday continually trying to get out of the ward and got as far as the reception area two to three times.

“Three nurses had to leave a ward of vulnerable patients to find him. It is a disaster and makes me wonder if the senior managers who decided to close PICU made a proper risk assessment.”

Read more: Two more staff suspended at Muckamore Abbey hospital over abuse scandal as crisis forces closure of intensive care unit

The ward which received the PICU referrals on Friday is known as Cranfield 2.

The father said that he received a phone call from a senior Muckamore staff member over the weekend confirming they were reopening the PICU during the day to nurse his son for ‘safety’ reasons.

He will be transferred back to Cranfield 2 in the evenings when the ward is locked.

The patient, who has the capacity of a toddler, is at the centre of an abuse scandal after CCTV footage showed healthcare staff physically and mentally mistreating him and other patients last year.

To date, a total of 17 staff have been suspended while a massive police probe is ongoing.

The Irish News asked the Belfast trust to confirm if the PICU had reopened during the day due to concerns about patients escaping.

We also asked if a risk assessment had been carried out.

A trust spokesman replied: “Facilities within the PICU are available for staff to use as and when necessary and this will remain the case. Staff may use PICU facilities at any time depending on the situation.

“The decision to close the PICU was made by a multi-disciplinary team that included nurses, psychiatrists and management. This decision was made in the interests of patient safety.”

Read more: Scale of abuse scandal at Muckamore was 'suppressed' last year, NHS chief reveals

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