Opinion: Future of Muckamore Abbey in doubt after latest shocking revelations
Less than four months ago, it emerged that the Department of Health was firmly opposed to proposals that a public inquiry should be held into the unprecedented abuse scandal at Muckamore Abbey in Co Antrim.
Events have moved on so rapidly, as our extensive coverage yesterday demonstrated, that even if a full probe by a judge was authorised, the hospital may no longer be capable of surviving.
The first priority must always be the safety and well being of patients with severe learning disabilities and the appalling scale of the offences already identified by a major PSNI investigation strongly suggests that the Belfast Trust needs to urgently consider arrangements which do not include Muckamore.
Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie set out the position starkly in a comprehensive Irish News interview which revealed that 400 incidents, covering an astonishing total of 1,500 crimes, had already been identified in a single ward, the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
There is no doubt that the case is the largest adult safeguarding measure ever undertaken by the PSNI, and, with some 300,000 hours of CCTV footage being examined from cameras which staff did not realise were switched on, quite possibly the biggest of its kind anywhere in the UK.
The evidence of physical abuse, wilful neglect and the inappropriate use of seclusion which has steadily grown over the last year can only be devastating for families who were assured that their vulnerable loved ones would receive high levels of care.
There will also be considerable sympathy for the committed and dedicated members of staff who have attempted to maintain proper professional standards in the most difficult of circumstances.
However, it seems inevitable that the number of suspensions among Muckamore staff, which now stands at 20, will rise as the police investigation reaches what has been described as a crucial stage.
While it will be generally accepted that a full public inquiry would already be under way if a health minister was in office at Stormont, the suspension of the devolved structures cannot allow key decisions on the future of Muckamore Abbey to be delayed indefinitely.
The relatives of the patients, as well as the wider community, will expect to be told in detail how the existing system allowed such shocking consequences to unfold in an institution of such vital importance.