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Muckamore scandal a living nightmare for families of vulnerable patients

This newspaper has published more than 100 stories in the past two years about the appalling treatment of extremely vulnerable patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

It is a scandal that is disturbing in its scale - to date 1,500 alleged crimes have been identified by police - and harrowing in its detail.

Many readers will find the descriptions of assaults carried out by staff on people in their care extremely difficult to read, never mind to comprehend.

But for the families, who have entrusted their loved ones into the hands of nurses, support workers and the management of this hospital, this is now a living nightmare, their faith in healthcare professionals shaken to the core by the shocking treatment suffered by their relatives, some unable to articulate what has happened to them.

This story and its distressing revelations began in August 2017 when an alleged attack on a patient, Aaron Brown, was captured on CCTV, an incident that would trigger the biggest adult safeguarding investigation of its kind for the PSNI.

Aaron, who is non-verbal, epileptic and with severe learning disabilities, was aged 20 when he was admitted to Muckamore after his condition worsened.

In a heart-rending interview with this paper yesterday, his devoted mother, Karen Brown, spoke of the day she handed her son, whom she described as a 'toddler in a man's body', over to the care of the hospital staff, who assured her, 'he will be safe here.'

In fact, he was far from safe. To date his parents have been told of 120-130 incidents involving their son, each one 'like putting a knife into me', says Mrs Brown.

The knowledge of what has been happening at Muckamore has taken a heavy toll on the families of patients and leaves the Belfast trust and the department of health with important and far-reaching decisions to be made.

With 28 staff suspended, sickness absence and difficulties in recruiting, there are questions over the long term future of the unit.

A significant number of patients have been in Muckamore for decades and finding suitable alternative arrangements is undoubtedly challenging.

It is vital that relatives are kept fully updated on developments and consulted about next steps.

But there is a wider issue about governance and accountability which requires a properly constituted inquiry to discover why things went so badly wrong and how we can ensure that vulnerable patients in the care of the health service are completely safe.

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