Mother reveals fears for Muckamore patient after he escaped 10 times from unlocked ward
THE mother of a Muckamore Abbey Hospital patient who 'escaped' 10 times from an open ward has described how she was "waiting to hear he was dead".
In an interview with the Irish News, the Dundonald woman says her "nerves were shattered" after she learned that her 22-year-old son, who has the mind of a two-year-old, had made it to the car park of the Co Antrim facility on three occasions.
The young man had previously been a patient in the hospital's secure Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), which was closed on December 21 due to an unprecedented number of staff suspensions linked to an abuse scandal.
He was moved to an 'unlocked' ward, known as Cranfield 2.
"I knew right away when they closed the PICU on the Friday night and moved him to Cranfield that he would try to get out. He was so settled previously, the staff were excellent and it broke my heart," the mother-of-four said
"When I found out he had made it out to the carpark, as a mother I knew he was making for home. Anything could have happened to him. I was waiting to hear he was dead the whole time."
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Correspondence seen by the The Irish News confirms that the Cranfield 2 ward is now "locked" while some facilities in the PICU are being opened again for patients who require them.
The mother also expressed alarm that some staff were unaware of their son's 'choking' condition and believe that no proper risk assessment was carried out prior to the sudden closure of the PICU, which cares for the sickest psychiatric patients from across Northern Ireland.
"We got him home for a week at Christmas and he was so unsettled.
"When we took him back, I saw the dinner they were serving him and asked if they were aware of his feeding plan and choking. They weren't," she added.
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The patient's father wrote to a senior director at the Belfast health trust on December 27, informing her of his concerns about the impact of the unit's closure. He also requested a copy of a risk assessment carried out prior to the decision being made.
Replying to his letter a week later, Marie Heaney, who is the director of adult social and primary care at the trust, apologised for the "upset" caused to the family and said the decision to shut the PICU was "not taken lightly".
She also confirmed that "a decision was taken to lock Cranfield 2" on December 23 and that the health watchdog, the RQIA, had been alerted.
"A full review of staffing has been completed and (your son's) named nurse from PICU has been allocated to him in Cranfield 2... In regard to the risk assessment, I will ask the charge nurse to have a copy of this available for you at your next visit to the ward," Ms Heaney wrote.
The father visited his son at the weekend but the risk assessment was not available.
To date, 19 staff - mainly nurses - have been suspended from Muckamore after CCTV footage emerged which showed appalling physical and mental mistreatment of vulnerable patients in 2017.
A massive police investigation is ongoing, which the National Crime Agency (NCA) is assisting.