Northern Ireland

Muckamore Abbey: MP calls on NI secretary to hold public inquiry

Gavin Robinson speaking in the house of commons
Image caption Gavin Robinson described the situation as a 'scandal'

A DUP MP has called on the secretary of state to hold a public inquiry into allegations of abuse at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, County Antrim.

Police are currently investigating claims that a number of vulnerable patients were subjected to physical and mental abuse.

Gavin Robinson made the call during an urgent question at the House of Commons.

He described the situation as "a scandal".

It comes after a review in December 2018 found that many lives were affected and there was a culture of tolerating harm at the facility.

Mr Robinson said he has grave reservations over how the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has handled the Muckamore scandal.

He said that clearly proper procedures were not followed - particularly providing supporting evidence to the professional body, the Nursing Midwifery Council, when they requested evidence before temporarily suspending seven nurses.

"How outrageous is that? They just simply didn't take the necessary steps. What confidence can the public have if that is the position the trust has adopted. If they are going to rectify it - well they should have done it in the first place," he said.

In an interview with BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme, the DUP MP said the public struggles when they see very different accounts coming from the Department of Health and the Belfast Health Trust.

"I have full confidence in the Department of Health, I think they have been incredibly honourable throughout this process. I first raised the complaint of a constituent whose son had been assaulted in Muckamore and I believe the department has taken important course of action about this."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Belfast Trust is to develop a review into governance, leadership and management in relation to allegations of abuse at the hospital.

An oversight committee is to be set up including the health trust's three directors and deputy directors.

Image caption Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan said it had been a "drip feed of information" from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Terms of reference are to be established by an independent two-person panel.

The information emerged during a cross-party meeting between MLAs and the Belfast Trust on Wednesday.

However, Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan said he is not happy with how the trust is handling the matter.

"It has been a drip feet of information and I am not happy with the two hour meeting with the trust this morning," he said.

"It illustrates all the more need for a public inquiry while we know abuse took place we don't know how or why and how it managed to continue for so long."

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for more than two years following a bitter dispute between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Civil servants have been in effect running departments since the collapse of a power-sharing executive.

Image caption This is the first time the issue has been raised in the House of Commons

Mr Robinson told the Commons: "The secretary of state knows that through the Inquiries Act, she is the only person who is capable of calling a public inquiry - without a minister she is the only one who can do it.

"I am asking her to earnestly engage with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, with the families with all those who need answers."

While there have been cross-party calls for a public inquiry, this is the first time the issue has been raised in the House of Commons.

In response, the NI Secretary Karen Bradley said she would continue to consider the points Mr Robinson had raised.

Cross-party update

During Wednesday's meeting with MLAs, the Belfast Trust re-iterated that while staffing remains challenging, the hospital is operating safely.

It was also confirmed that all CCTV footage is now under the care of the PSNI.

The independent panel appointed to view the footage is continuing to do so in liaison with the PSNI.

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