Almost 100 Muckamore staff 'linked' to alleged abuse
ALMOST 100 staff at the crisis-hit Muckamore Abbey Hospital have been identified by police as being linked to alleged abuse of vulnerable patients.
The Irish News has learned the Belfast health trust was briefed by detectives last month on the latest number of suspects - which represents more than a third of its entire nursing workforce - following viewing of CCTV footage as part of a major PSNI investigation.
Sources say the development has increased concerns about the future of the hospital, with the Department of Health yesterday evening releasing a statement on plans to "reshape" long-term services with new "locations" under "consideration".
It is understood that a proposed closure of the regional Co Antrim facility, which treats adults with severe learning disabilities, had been privately mooted for next summer.
However, due to the "inevitability" of further suspensions as the PSNI investigation widens - CCTV has still to be reviewed in three other wards - there are fears that officials may be forced to bring forward this date.
There are 55 patients in Muckamore, with the vast majority fit for discharge. But due to the complexity of their conditions, they cannot be discharged into the community due to inadequate care packages, with some facing delays of several years.
Six of the 55 patients are receiving clinical treatment.
Allegations of physical abuse, mental cruelty and the use of unmonitored seclusion were first revealed last July after the emergence of CCTV footage showed staff reportedly kicking, punching and neglecting patients.
Trust management confirmed yesterday that a further five employees had been suspended as "a result of further viewing of historical CCTV footage", bringing the total number to 33. Of this, 17 are registered nurses and 16 are healthcare assistants.
When asked to comment on claims that 96 staff are linked to abuse allegations, a trust spokesman said: "As this is a live PSNI investigation this would be a matter for the police to respond to. We would not be in a position to comment".
The PSNI also said it was unable to comment on the number of suspects but did not deny the figure.
The senior officer leading the inquiry, detective chief inspector Jill Duffie, revealed however that more than 600 "incidents" have been discovered by her specialist team - double the figure from four months ago.
In August, Ms Duffie confirmed that 1,500 suspected crimes had been found in just one ward, the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
To date, there have been no prosecutions but sources say that arrests are imminent with the PSNI probe moving "at pace".
The case is now the biggest adult safeguarding investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland, according to its lead detective.
A trust spokesman reiterated their "sincere apologies" to patients and families affected by staff behaviours, which "fell significantly below professional standards" and were "unacceptable"at Muckamore, and for the "distressing impact this continues to have on their lives".
A Department spokesman said its priority remains the "safety and stability of care" at Muckamore but that suspensions "clearly contribute to the challenge of maintaining required staffing levels".
"This is a difficult and challenging time for everyone involved with Muckamore," he said.
"Tribute should be paid to the many dedicated staff members who continue to work there and demonstrate their compassion, dedication and professionalism on a daily basis".
He added that any "changes" to the hospital will involve consultation with patients, families, carers and staff.