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Under-fire chief of health watchdog linked to Dumurry Manor to head child deaths panel

By Victoria Leonard

The head of an organisation, criticised for its failure to protect residents at Dunmurry Manor care home is to chair an official working party on implementing the recommendations of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry, it can be revealed.

Olive McLeod, who leads the Regulatory and Quality Improvement Agency (RQIA) - the watchdog body responsible for inspecting the availability and quality of health and social care services in Northern Ireland - has been named by the Department of Health to lead one of nine 'workstreams' developing proposals to implement the 96 recommendations from the public inquiry.

The Hyponatraemia Inquiry into the deaths of children in hospitals here took 14 years to complete, and found that five of the deaths were avoidable.

The RQIA's latest available annual report said Ms McLeod received a £85,000 salary and £66,000 in pension benefits in that year.

The Department of Health said it had "full confidence" in Ms McLeod's appointment.

Earlier this month the RQIA received severe criticism after the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland (COPNI) Eddie Lynch published the damning findings of his 16-month investigation into Dunmurry Manor care home.

It revealed a litany of shocking failings at the home, including resident-on-resident sex abuse, people going three weeks without medication, and one resident whose bone was exposed as a result of a pressure sore.

However, Ms McLeod hit out at the COPNI report and suggested that Mr Lynch was irresponsible in referring to sex attacks by residents on other residents.

Female residents' families have told how their loved ones hid in their bedrooms because they were scared of unwanted attention from male residents.

The COPNI report gave several examples of this, and said relatives of residents felt their concerns were not taken seriously by Dunmurry Manor.

Mr Lynch attributed the sex assaults to the fact that many people were not receiving their required medication, meaning their behaviour was difficult to manage.

Mr Lynch said he was particularly concerned that the failings had happened while the RQIA deemed that conditions at the home were safe.

However, in a statement Ms McLeod said that "RQIA does not agree with some of the Commissioner's conclusions".

She added: "Most seriously, we found no evidence of institutional abuse and do not believe that the Commissioner's findings support this statement.

"RQIA did find instances where the quality of care was not to the expected standard and worked with the management of the home to support improvement and follow-up inspections found that care did get better for a period.

"We do not agree that this meets the definition of institutional abuse.

"In respect of the findings of resident-on-resident sexual assault, RQIA is very concerned at how the Commissioner has chosen to present this finding.

"Disinhibited sexualised behaviour is not uncommon in people with dementia.

"For that reason, it is not regarded as criminal activity and is dealt with sensitively by trust safeguarding teams who work closely with care providers to mitigate risks to all residents and to develop care plans that recognise such behaviours as a potential expression of distress.

"RQIA does not believe there is any justification for the Commissioner's presentation of this finding and is concerned about the impact on residents and their families."

Responding, Mr Lynch said he was "extremely shocked by the tone" of Ms McLeod's statement.

He said that the evidence had been analysed by his team and his panel of experts.

Former Health Minister Edwin Poots also criticised the RQIA's oversight of conditions at Dunmurry Manor.

"There was an investigation done four years ago into another care home, Cherry Tree, which should have ensured that similar failings didn't happen again and unfortunately they have," the DUP MLA said.

"I think we have to ask the RQIA questions about how these failings have happened again and what assurances can they give to the public that they will not recur.

"If they can't reassure people then they are not meeting their objective and they will completely lose all public confidence."

Ms McLeod took up her post at the RQIA in July 2016.

Prior to that she was the director of nursing and user experience at the Northern Trust.

While holding the senior management position, nurses working for her at Antrim Area Hospital threatened to strike over concerns for patient safety.

In November 2015, public service union Unison said the 30 paediatric nurses at the hospital were prepared to stage a walkout over proposed staffing changes.

At the time Ms McLeod - who was appointed director of nursing and user experience at the Trust in August 2011 ­- defended the plans.

She stated she was satisfied patients were not at risk, and the trust refused to release the findings of any clinical risk assessments it carried out, citing confidentiality.

The Department of Health said that Ms McLeod "has made a significant contribution towards the improvement of care standards at Dunmurry Manor".

I added: "We have full confidence in Olive's leadership of the RQIA and in her as chair of this assurance workstream.

"The RQIA will continue to play a vital role in assuring the quality of the health and social care system.

"The department is reviewing the legislation which sets out the RQIA's powers with a view to extending their current powers to combat where the quality of care is not of the required standard.

"Everyone across the system is anxious to learn lessons from Dunmurry Manor and to take steps to enhance public confidence.

"That is why the department is commissioning an independent review.

"We intend to announce further details of this review next week."

It said that while the details of those leading the implementation of recommendations from the Hyponatraemia Inquiry had been announced on Thursday, further details of group membership "will be released within the next few months".

It added the department had recently met representatives from COPNI, NICCY, the Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman's office to brief them on the implementation programme and will meet them again in November to provide an update.

It said it was continuing to meet with a range of stakeholders to provide details of the programme, and a series of information events are being planned for September to "encourage and facilitate greater public involvement".

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