Leading article

Muckamore Abbey allegations deeply disturbing

Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim has a proud history of caring for patients with severe learning disabilities.

Thousands of people have been looked after by dedicated staff over the decades, their families closely involved in a facility with a strong sense of community.

However, relatives of patients past and present will be deeply concerned by recent allegations of mistreatment at the hospital with an unprecedented number of nurses being suspended.

Belfast trust confirmed yesterday that nine staff, the majority of whom are nurses, have been suspended following `past incidents' which came to light in the last week. A further ten staff who were reported to have witnessed these events are in the process of being interviewed.

It is understood that CCTV footage shows shows staff allegedly striking vulnerable patients and pulling them to the floor by the hair.

Recordings are also said to show physical assaults while some patients were said to be locked out and left alone in the hospital grounds and others left in the dark without supervision.

These reports are clearly exceptionally disturbing, involving patients who are very vulnerable and reliant on staff for their safety and wellbeing.

The situation in Muckamore can fairly be described as a crisis with agency nurses being flown in from England to provide specialist cover and being put up in a local hotel.

Belfast trust has apologised unreservedly to patients and their families but there can be no doubt that this is a difficult time for all concerned.

The Royal College of Nursing has also highlighted the length of time it has taken to investigate this matter.

The wider public needs to be reassured that Muckamore is a well-run facility where the highest standards of care and best safeguarding practices are being properly observed.

Patients with learning disabilities and psychiatric conditions must be fully protected and those who fail in their duty of care should be held to account.

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