Northern Ireland news

Former trust boss Dr Michael McBride says he could not contribute to damning Muckamore review due to Covid pressures

Chief medical officer Michael McBride
Seanín Graham

NORTHERN Ireland's most senior doctor has confirmed he could not take part in a damning review into Muckamore Abbey Hospital which exposed appalling management failings.

In a statement to The Irish News, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, who is also a former Belfast health trust boss, said he "regrettably" was unable to contribute to the report - despite being requested by its authors - due to Covid-related work pressures.

He stressed it was not down to "any lack of willingness" on his part.

The independent review team probing 'leadership and governance' discovered that Muckamore was a "place apart" governed by a "dysfunctional" hospital management team.

They revealed a "missed opportunity" to act on institutional abuse discovered in a ward eight years ago - with almost identical allegations occurring five years later in a separate ward and which are now at the centre of an unprecedented police investigation.

Serious criticism was also levelled at the top tiers of the Belfast health trust, with authors noting "lack of curiosity" and "infrequent visits" to the Co Antrim facility, resulting in "lack of visible leadership".

Dr McBride acted as interim chief executive of the Belfast health trust between December 2014 and February 2017, while combining his CMO role.

In an unusual development, the review team singled out three retired senior Muckamore managers who refused to "participate" or "engage" with them and said how unhelpful this was. The individuals are not named but a description of their job titles is given.

They also noted that a "former chief executive of the trust was also not available for interview within the time scale set for the review", which was between January and July this year.

"The review team regrets that its conclusions were not informed by input from these individuals."

The Irish News asked the Department of Health to confirm if Dr McBride was the former chief executive.

In a statement, Dr McBride said: "Regrettably, due to extreme work pressures brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, I was unable to contribute to the Muckamore governance review within its timeframe. This was not due to any lack of willingness on my behalf.

"I very much welcome the thorough report which the review team has produced. I will, of course, co-operate fully with whatever inquiry process the minister puts in place to provide the answers which patients and families are entitled to receive."

Health minister Robin Swann confirmed on Wednesday he will order an inquiry into the scandal in the wake of the report's findings. He did not however clarify if it will be a public inquiry.

Families of patients have led a campaign for a public inquiry and launched a petition last month calling on Mr Swann to urgently sanction it.

Dundonald man Glynn Brown, who was the person who first raised the alarm in August 2017 after learning his Aaron was allegedly assualted in the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, said the refusal of three senior managers to take part in the review was deeply concerning.

"I have serious reservations about three senior officials who did not co-operate. That is why we need a  full public inquiry to compel those individuals culpable to give evidence before a judge about  what went on," he said.

Mr Brown last night also expressed concerns that Dr McBride, as a former trust chief executive, was unable to take part in the reivew.

"I'm hugely disappointed that he adopted this position when this is now the biggest abuse scandal of its kind in the UK," he said.

"It's such a crucial issue and I had hoped that time would have been set aside over a period of six to seven months by everyone involved in this issue.

"In my opinion, the lack of particpation by senior management now leaves no room for manoevure. Anything less than a full public inquiry means that other staff may be inclined to adopt the same position as their leaders. The only way to prevent that is a public inquiry."

 

:: A headline on page 6 yesterday suggested health minister Robin Swann had agreed to a public inquiry into Muckamore Abbey Hospital. In fact, as our coverage made clear, the minister has pledged to order an inquiry but its nature and scope has yet to be determined.

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