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Family’s anger after vulnerable woman put on mixed ward where sex assault took place

By Gillian Halliday

The family of a vulnerable Co Antrim woman who was placed on a mixed ward in the same hospital where a female disabled patient was sexually assaulted months earlier has hit out at the Northern Trust.

Rebecca Hunter from Newtownabbey said her 23-year-old sister Megan - whose rare condition means that she was born without half her brain - was admitted with pneumonia to Antrim Area Hospital in November 2016.

Megan, who has multiple physical and mental disabilities and uses a wheelchair, spent five weeks on a mixed ward after being transferred from an intensive care unit, before she was well enough to return the Newtownabbey home she shares with her mother Janet.

However, Ms Hunter said on Monday that while they were pleased with the medical care Megan received, they were left shocked and angry when they discovered recently that around eight months prior to her sister's admission to the ward, vulnerable disabled woman Natasha Mulholland had been the victim of a sexual assault in the same hospital.

Ms Mulholland (33), who had Rett syndrome, a disorder that affected her muscles and speech, was targeted by male patient Ronnie Carlton (56), who was in the bed next to her.

The Cullybackey man, from Ballymena Road, was jailed on June 7 at Antrim Courthouse for 18 months after admitting a charge of indecent assault. He must also serve 18 months on supervised licensed parole after his release.

Speaking after his sentencing, Ms Mulholland's mother Donna said her late daughter - who died nine months after the assault in an unrelated illness - "never got over" the incident.

She also agreed with the judge - who criticised hospital management for failing to place Ms Mulholland on an all-female ward or side ward - that her daughter had been "let down".

Ms Hunter - who said she learned of what happened to Ms Mullholland through media reports of Carlton's trial - claimed yesterday that her sister had also been placed at risk.

"My sister wouldn't know what's right and wrong," said the bakery worker.

"My mum's having nightmares and can't sleep, worrying if something like this could've happened to Megan. How do I know that what happened to Natasha didn't happen to Megan?

"Megan can't even turn herself over in bed by herself. She's vulnerable.

"There was close to two days where there was only men in there with her."

Criticising the Northern Trust, the mother-of-two said that in light of what happened to Ms Mulholland, safeguards should have been in place to prevent Megan from being put on a mixed ward in the first place.

"It shouldn't have happened. They have a duty of care," she explained.

In response, a spokesperson for the Northern Trust said "regrettably" there are occasions when adult patients cannot be placed in same gender accommodation due to infection control management or emergency admissions. However, they added, the trust's own policy is to ensure that anyone in this situation is kept under "daily review with a view to relocating them as soon as possible".

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