Northern Ireland news

Families of Muckamore patients invited for meetings with Belfast health trust

Muckamore Abbey Hospital is at the centre of a huge adult safeguarding investigation. Picture by Mal McCann
Seanín Graham

FAMILIES of Muckamore patients have being invited for 'briefings' by the Belfast health trust following further staff suspensions and fears about the future of the hospital.

Relatives were telephoned at the weekend to ask if they wished to attend this week's meetings headed up the trust's director of adult social care, Marie Heaney.

A trust spokesman confirmed that Ms Heaney wants to address the impact of suspensions and reassure families that care is safe.

However, the trust will not be drawn on the sustainability of the Co Antrim hospital, with the Department of Health now taking the lead on the crisis.

It is understood that discussions are ongoing at the highest level about the Co Antrim facility's viability given its massive reliance on agency staff due to staff suspensions, sickness absence and inability to fill empty nursing posts.

Last week, eight Muckamore staff received precautionary suspensions - of which half were registered nurses - as a result of the police viewing "minute by minute" CCTV footage.

The Irish News has learned that eight to 10 employees may face similar action in coming weeks, with an emergency staff meeting held at the trust to warn of what was coming.

A total of 28 healthcare professionals have now been suspended, with some absent for more than 18 months. All remain on full pay.

Parent Glynn Brown said he is concerned the hospital "will collapse" given the ongoing suspensions.

"I welcome the trust trying to allay fears as it's been several months since we've formally met with senior managers," he said.

"While there's a lot of very good and compassionate nursing staff up there now I just don't see how it can continue safety with such a depleted workforce."

The Irish News last week reported that the north's health trusts were asked to submit 'contingency plans' on how to deal with discharging and resettling vulnerable long-stay patients, some of whom have been in the hospital for decades.

The majority of those patients - there are around 50 - are from the Belfast, Northern and South Eastern trust areas while a small number are from the Western and Southern.

A spokesman for the Belfast trust reiterated its apology to patients and families, saying staff behaviours were unacceptable and "fell significantly below professional standards"

"We wish to reiterate our sincere apologies... for the resulting distressing impact on their lives," he said.

"We wish to assure families that care in Muckamore is safe, and that staffing levels remain secure. Staffing is currently augmented by bank and agency staff. In addition, the trust is engaged in active recruitment."

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