Northern Ireland news

Suspensions on seven Muckamore nurses lifted in High Court ruling

The father of a Muckamore Abbey Hospital patient is calling for an independent inquiry into an abuse scandal. Picture Mal McCann
Seanín Graham

SEVEN nurses linked to the Muckamore hospital abuse scandal who were suspended from working in the NHS by their professional body have had the bans dramatically lifted following a High Court legal challenge.

Families whose loved ones were harmed in the Co Antrim facility were telephoned by Belfast health trust managers over the weekend to inform them of the decision - after a high court judge found the proper processes had not been followed in carrying out the suspensions.

The ruling, made on Friday afternoon, has sent shockwaves through the health service after it emerged the Belfast Trust had failed to provide enough evidence to the regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Read More: Trade union representing Muckamore nurses backs calls for independent inquiry

A father of a vulnerable patient who suffered ill treatment said the ruling had left him with with "no confidence" in the trust's management of the crisis - and highlighted the "urgent need" for a full independent inquiry to be ordered by government.

Pressure is mounting on government with Muckamore families calling for a public inquiry. Picture Ann McManus

Read More: Muckamore families welcome police searches but concern about length of investigation

The Dundonald man's 22-year-old son, who has severe learning disabilities and cannot speak, was abused by staff while he was a patient in the hospital's Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

"Obviously the rule of law must be upheld and I accept the judge's decision. But the court hearing points to the serious deficiencies in the trust's preparation of the case and for me highlights ongoing problems with how the Belfast Trust has dealt with this investigation from the get go," he said.

"How bad does it have to get before someone is made accountable and heads roll in the Belfast Trust in relation to Muckamore? I just hope the police are more methodical in their investigation."

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It is understood this is the first time the NMC has ever been forced to reverse 'interim' suspension orders at this level. Such measures are only used if there are significant concerns about a nurse in relation to patient safety or if there is a risk of harm to the public.

The 18-month bans were imposed during private hearings in Belfast last August, a month after the scale of the abuse was first revealed in the Irish News.

The trade union representing the seven individuals, the Northern Ireland Royal College of Nursing, lodged a legal appeal against the suspensions last year.

Read More: Timeline of Muckamore abuse investigation

While the nurses are still suspended by their employer (the trust), the court ruling means they can legally go back onto the NMC's nursing register for the UK.

In a clear attack on the Belfast trust's management last night, an NMC director said it is "urging" the trust to provide the evidence that it "previously requested" so that it can take action.

The Irish News has learned that the NMC last year requested CCTV footage of Muckamore Abbey hospital staff reportedly abusing patients in the PICU.

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Matthew McClelland, the NMC's director of Fitness to Practise, said he recognised the high court decision "will be a concern to families".

"I am sorry for the impact on them. We are continuing to investigate the very serious allegations about nursing care at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

"In light of the court's decision, we urge the Belfast health trust to provide us with the evidence we have previously requested which we require so we can take appropriate regulatory action," he said.

Read More: Muckamore scandal prompts concerns over procedure around registration of support workers

The Irish News asked the Belfast trust to respond to relatives' concerns and what evidence it had failed to provide to the NMC.

A trust spokeswoman confirmed they had contacted families over the weekend to "discuss concerns".

"Belfast Trust has been in contact with the NMC and has agreed a process to provide any additional material they require," she added.

Muckamore Abbey hospital, which is close to Antrim town, is the regional inpatient facility for adults with severe learning disabilities.

It is currently at the centre of the biggest criminal safeguarding investigation in Northern Ireland, with police investigating 158 incidents of ill treatment of patients.

Nineteen staff - mainly nurses - have been suspended.

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