Northern Ireland

Muckamore Abbey: Hospital situation shocking, says Mencap

Muckamore Abbey Hospital
Image caption A report about Muckamore Abbey Hospital lists a series of catastrophic failings

A charity that supports people with learning disabilities said it was appalled to learn that 38 adults remain unnecessarily in Muckamore Abbey Hospital in County Antrim as care cannot be found for them elsewhere.

Mencap NI said lack of funding could no longer be used as an excuse.

Director Margaret Kelly told BBC News NI as many as 38 people being "deprived of their liberty" is shocking.

Patients' relatives were told staffing levels are at a critical level.

About 80 men and women are patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Antrim.

While some require hospitalisation under the Mental Health Act, it has emerged that as many as 38 people remain there unnecessarily as care cannot be found for them in the community.

They are described as who are "complex discharges".

"We are just shocked and horrified at this figure," Ms Kelly said.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Health official Richard Pengelly was "angered that vulnerable people were let down" at the hospital

"That is 38 men and women who are left living in what is an institution and that in effect means they are being deprived of their liberty.

"It isn't good enough and we can't accept that it's just to do with lack of funding.

"Organisations like ourselves and others want to help and we can."

'Need clear action'

Agnes Lunny, the chief executive of Positive Futures, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities, said the Department of Health must produce its action plan as soon as possible.

"If the department is leading on this, then the department needs to be holding people to account for the achievement of that.

"We need clear action, we need to know who is going to do what by when - as an organisation we are ready and willing today."

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said it is recruiting staff for 15 posts.

A new service manager and day care manager are due to start this month.

It has emerged that community organisations, including the Larche group, will be involved in working with patients.

Image caption There are plans to move vulnerable long-term patients out of the hospital

The Belfast Trust previously said it deeply regretted not having acted sooner over abuse allegations at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

In December, BBC News NI revealed details of a confidential review about the protection of vulnerable patients.

The report concluded that lives had been compromised and it charted a series of catastrophic failings and found there was a culture of tolerating harm.

CCTV footage revealed harrowing incidents of physical and mental abuse of some patients who are unable to speak out for themselves.

Its authors said it was "shattering that no-one intervened to halt the harm and take charge".

The psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU), which houses six beds for some of Northern Ireland's most vulnerable and physically disabled adults, has remained closed since before Christmas due to staff shortages.

The Belfast Trust said it was taking this opportunity to complete necessary and planned improvements to the physical environment of the unit.

A spokesperson said: "Belfast HSC Trust wish to clarify that whilst the psychiatric intensive care unit is currently closed at Muckamore Abbey Hospital there are currently no patients who require this service.

"In the event that an individual requires psychiatric intensive care, the Trust has in place a contingency plan to deliver this service in another part of the hospital."

'Contempt and low regard'

The father of a 22-year-old patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he is furious that the unit has not reopened.

He added: "Would the Belfast Health Trust close the intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital or the City Hospital as a first measure to alleviate a staffing crisis? I think not.

"In fact it would be inconceivable and it demonstrates the contempt and low regard that these patients are held in by senior health officials."

Relatives were briefed by Mairead Mitchell, the Belfast Trust's co-director of learning disabilities, in December.

They were told that while some changes had taken place within the hospital, including a breakfast and healthy eating club, staffing at PICU was critical.

From January, Mrs Mitchell's single role will be dedicated to making improvements at Muckamore.

According to minutes of the meeting, CCTV footage has alerted the police and senior social workers to more incidents of abuse.

Nineteen staff members have been suspended while a police investigation into allegations of physical and mental abuse continues.

Concerns about over-medication

In December, the Department of Health's permanent secretary Richard Pengelly apologised to patients, parents and relatives.

Image copyright Belfast Trust
Image caption A seclusion room was described as a "dark dungeon" by a parent of a patient

One mother told the BBC News NI that the seclusion room used to calm patients resembled a dungeon.

At the December meeting, Mrs Mitchell said the room was no longer in use and in future patients would be placed in a new area.

Pictures of that room were revealed by the BBC.

Relatives have expressed concern that loved ones were being over medicated as a form of keeping them quiet.

The trust said it hoped that was not the case and, in a new move, a pharmacist was appointed at the hospital to review each patient's medication and reduce it where necessary.

New gym equipment has been ordered for the hospital and a music therapist is understood to have started.

But staff shortages mean that patients are not being taken out on trips, in spite of the trust purchasing two new buses that are due to be delivered this month.

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