Yet more disturbing findings at Muckamore
It should be a matter of deep concern that months after the Muckamore Abbey Hospital abuse scandal came to light, and after repeated apologies and assurances from senior officials to the families of patients, further alarming issues have been uncovered at the Co Antrim facility.
Fresh inspections carried out by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) in February and last month found a number of serious matters which have been set out in confidential minutes seen by The Irish News.
The RQIA found staffing levels were 'low and unsafe' and warned of a 'psychological disconnect' between ward staff and management.
According to the watchdog, the situation had 'become so precarious as to be critical', with the reliance on agency workers having the potential to 'impact on patient safety and the safety of staff themselves.'
We are told that staff are allowing themselves to be hit by patients because they feared the consequences of using legitimate intervention techniques in which they had been trained.
Meanwhile, it was found that the seclusion of patients was continuing in rooms which did not meet the requirements for this purpose.
Other concerns centred on the management of patients' money with, in one case, the 'potential financial abuse' of a patient's assets suspected.
The RQIA minutes conclude there is a 'sense of crisis' on the site with staff 'firefighting' rather than working in a planned way.
The picture being painted by the regulatory body is frankly disturbing and will do little to reassure families that urgent and meaningful improvements are taking place at the hospital.
It is also worrying and disappointing that the findings of the inspectors have not been made public.
We need to see greater transparency around this issue, not less.
It is inevitable that these findings, coming as they do from inspections carried out so recently, will intensify calls for a public inquiry and a full examination of how vulnerable adults with severe learning disabilities have been treated at Muckamore.