Northern Ireland

Health minister may have no option but to shut scandal-hit Muckamore, support group say

Muckamore Abbey Hospital, Co Antrim. Picture by Mal McCann.
Muckamore Abbey Hospital, Co Antrim. Picture by Mal McCann.

HEALTH Minister Robin Swann may be left with no option but to shut scandal-hit Muckamore Abbey completely, the secretary of a support group for relatives has said.

Minister Robin Swann announced on Monday evening a three month consultation on the future of the scandal-hit hospital that houses people with severe learning disabilities and mental health issues.

The minister signalled closure is his preferred position, but there is some talk of it remaining open as a “treatment and assessment” centre, said Brigene McNeilly, secretary of the Parents and Friends of Muckamore Abbey.

Ms McNeilly, whose brother has resided at the facility for 35 years, was among relatives of 35 remaining patients summoned to a Monday meeting at the Maldron Hotel near Belfast International Airport. It was addressed by Peter May, the Department of Health's permanent secretary.

“He made two assurances, consultation will not have any effect on the criminal investigations or the public inquiry and that the hospital will not be closed or changed until everyone has been resettled,” said Ms McNeilly.

She said she will make a submission and is still developing her thoughts but “my feeling is I am not sure the Belfast trust can keep it”.

“I feel it is an important point to clarify what the minister actually means by closing the hospital. Does he actually mean to close it entirely, or is his intention to keep a part open for 'assessment and treatment'?” added Ms McNeilly.

"Assistance and treatment was mentioned but I do not think it should be done up there. So much has happened it would be the difficult for the trust or department to continue to work on that site, with all the background."

Staff will likely not want to work there and relatives may be reluctant to send their relatives, said Ms McNeilly.

Her brother was found fit to be discharged 25 years ago but the family has been unable to secure a suitable more community-based environment.

Independently, the family is involved in a legal case that would allow his relocation and Ms McNeilly that will be resolved soon.

Mr Swann said the consultation period could lead to the closure of the facility, currently at the centre of a public inquiry and multiple criminal investigations relating to alleged abuse of patients.

The minister said the closure, if approved, "would be on a carefully planned and phased basis, with intensive engagement with patients and families".

"I have carefully considered the options and I believe that signalling a clear intention now to close the hospital would help to support and accelerate the direction of travel to deliver on the long-standing policy aim – the resettlement of long-stay patients into appropriate community facilities and support," he said.

“As I have acknowledged previously, there have been serious failures of care at the hospital, leading me to initiate the public inquiry that is now underway.”