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Health watchdog RQIA gives Ulster Independent Clinic extra month to meet basic safety standards

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The Ulster Independent Clinic

The Ulster Independent Clinic

The Ulster Independent Clinic

One of Northern Ireland's biggest private hospitals has been given extra time to meet basic safety standards.

The Ulster Independent Clinic (UIC) in south Belfast has been granted four more weeks to raise standards after failing to put in place proper safeguards to ensure the safety of patients.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), Northern Ireland's health watchdog, first raised concerns about the hospital in January last year.

Inspectors discovered doctors were working at the hospital without providing proof they had insurance or the mandatory training to prove it was safe for them to work.

It was one of a series of failings uncovered by the RQIA during a three-day inspection in January last year.

The regulator ordered the hospital to "urgently review and resolve the issue".

However, the RQIA carried out a further inspection in November last year and found "limited progress in relation to arrangements for medical governance".

It said the hospital should stop the practice of allowing doctors to assist with operations without providing evidence of revalidation and indemnity "immediately" during a serious concerns meeting in July.

Revalidation is a safeguarding process all doctors must go through to prove their competence, while medical indemnity is insurance for doctors in the event of negligence.

However, following a further inspection in November, the RQIA said it was "not assured that sufficient safeguards were in place to protect the safety and wellbeing of patients".

As a result, it put in place a failure to comply notice on the registration of the hospital, which had a gross income of £28.6m last year. Management of the hospital was given until February 24 to address the concerns.

An unannounced inspection was carried out on Monday.

While the RQIA found the hospital had addressed six of the nine failings, a number of concerns remain, including the governance systems to "assure the fitness and competence" of doctors working as surgical assistants.

An RQIA spokesman said: "Earlier this week, the RQIA conducted an unannounced inspection at the Ulster Independent Clinic to assess progress in addressing our concerns relating to medical governance at the clinic.

"While compliance was achieved in respect of a number of issues highlighted in the RQIA's enforcement notice, further work is required to address a number of outstanding actions.

"As a result, the RQIA has extended the enforcement notice for a further four weeks. The safety and wellbeing of every patient at Ulster Independent Clinic is of paramount importance to the RQIA and we will continue to monitor this service through our ongoing regulatory activities."

A spokesman for the hospital said: "We continue to work with the RQIA to further strengthen our existing administrative and governance procedures.

"Whilst six of the areas previously identified have been completed, we welcome the short extension for full implementation of the remaining three actions.

"This includes us voluntarily engaging with the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency to ensure robust arrangements are in place to support continued access for trainee doctors to observe and support our consultants as surgical assistants."

Belfast Telegraph