Northern Ireland news

Muckamore inquiry will probe if authorities missed chances to tackle alleged abuse

Families in Belfast on Monday for the inquiry into Muckamore Abbey Hospital. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE inquiry into the alleged abuse of vulnerable patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital will look at whether opportunities to tackle the scandal were missed after vital CCTV footage was uncovered, a senior lawyer has said.

Continuing his opening statement on the second day of public hearings today, senior counsel to the inquiry, Sean Doran, said the probe will look at whether there were systemic failings in the healthcare system which allowed the abuse to go undetected.

He said it will also consider "whether there were earlier opportunities missed to detect issues that were brought to the attention of the relevant authorities when CCTV footage was uncovered".

In 2018, a whistleblower contacted The Irish News about disturbing CCTV footage reportedly showing abuse of vulnerable patients at the Co Antrim regional facility in 2017.

The Belfast Trust, which has responsibility for Muckamore, apologised after it emerged the footage allegedly showed patients being struck by staff and pulled to the floor by the hair.

The CCTV cameras were turned on months before staff were aware they were recording, the inquiry heard.

Muckamore is still open, with a total of 37 patients on the site.

The probe, which is expected to last for many months, is investigating the alleged physical abuse of vulnerable patients by staff at the hospital.

The inquiry is running in parallel with a major police investigation - the UK's largest-ever probe into the alleged abuse of vulnerable adults.

Dozens of staff have been suspended. A total of 38 people have been told they are to be prosecuted in connection with the Muckamore probe.

Mr Doran said the inquiry will look at the role of staff at all levels.

He said it "will examine the role of frontline staff, those with responsibility for clinical and professional oversight, those with leadership and or management responsibilities within the relevant health trusts and any other relevant person or bodies".

He added: "The inquiry will not only examine those roles on paper".

"It will seek to hear evidence from relevant personnel at all of those different levels of responsibility," he said.

Mr Doran said the inquiry will also look at how the hospital was regulated and inspected.

And he said it will tackle broader issues with the north's healthcare system.

"The inquiry will examine the primary and secondary causes of such abuse and will address the question of whether the abuse resulted from systemic failings within Muckamore Abbey Hospital or the wider healthcare system in Northern Ireland," he said.

He said the inquiry panel may want to ask if "there was a culture within the hospital which enabled abuse to go unchallenged".

"If so, how and why did such a culture develop?" he said.

"Were there failings at the level of management oversight that contributed to the abuse?

"Moving beyond the hospital itself, were there systemic failings in our healthcare system that enabled abuse at the hospital to go undetected?"

The inquiry continues.

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