Northern Ireland news

Health watchdog finds 'significant improvements' at Muckamore

The watchdog has found staffing improvements at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, Co Antrim. Picture Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

A WATCHDOG inspection has found "significant improvements" at Muckamore Abbey Hospital after serious concerns were raised about the running of the facility earlier this year.

A "detailed" three day unannounced inspection was carried out by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) last week at the Co Antrim hospital, which is at the centre of a major PSNI investigation into alleged abuse.

Controversial seclusion and "potential financial abuse" of vulnerable patients were discovered by the RQIA between February and April alongside "low and unsafe" nurse staffing levels - with warnings of a "psychological disconnect" between ward staff and management.

The scathing criticism was contained in confidential minutes leaked to The Irish News in May, which also revealed how RQIA officials clashed with trust bosses over their failure to appoint the seven staff nurses required to improve safety - with the trust instead hiring four agency staff.

The minutes also detailed how Muckamore employees were experiencing "psychological trauma" with some allowing themselves to be hit by patients - information that never appeared in the official RQIA reports.

However, following inspections between December 10 and 12, the watchdog said it was satisfied with staffing levels and has now lifted its improvement notices.

"We are pleased to report significant improvements at the hospital in addressing the concerns highlighted in our enforcement notices issued in August," said Dr Lourda Geoghegan, RQIA Medical Director.

"Since then the Belfast Trust has made a number of changes to how it delivers and manages this hospital, which are having a positive impact on patient care.

"RQIA acknowledges the continuing dedication of staff and management at the hospital in pursuing high quality care for every patient. As a result of this very welcome progress, RQIA has lifted all elements of its improvement notice relating to staffing. Here we have seen an open and welcoming atmosphere, with staff feeling supported and listened to as part of the improvement."

A total of 40 staff - mainly nurses and healthcare assistants - have been suspended from Muckamore following PSNI viewing of CCTV footage linked to alleged physical abuse and mental cruelty of vulnerable patients.

A further 40 members of the nursing workforce have quit their jobs or retired since January. The total nursing workforce is around 250.

Dr Geoghegan confirmed the RQIA had extended remaining notices relating to a "single aspect of

financial governance and one issue relating to safeguarding arrangements".

"This will allow the trust time to embed and sustain the improvements already delivered and evidence full compliance with the improvement notices," she said.

"We are confident that the Belfast Trust is now in a position to address these outstanding matters and we have therefore extended these two notices for a further 12 weeks."

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