Belfast Telegraph

'Appalled and angered they were let down': Top Northern Ireland civil servant apologises to Muckamore families

Richard Pengelly has apologised to the families of patients mistreated at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, saying he is
Richard Pengelly has apologised to the families of patients mistreated at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, saying he is "appalled and angered that vulnerable people were let down". (Liam McBurney/PA)

The head of the Northern Ireland health service has apologised to the families of patients mistreated at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, and said he is "appalled and angered that vulnerable people were let down".

Speaking following a meeting with the families, Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly made a number of commitments over care provision.

He was accompanied to the meeting by Chief Social Worker Sean Holland and Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle.

Mr Pengelly said: "It was important to me to apologise to families face-to-face for what happened to their loved ones while in the care of Muckamore Abbey Hospital - rather than through a press statement. I am both appalled and angered that vulnerable people were let down."

He said the Department was responding to damning revelations included in a report into procedures for caring for adults with learning difficulties, which was given to families last week and reported by the BBC.

Commissioned by the Belfast Health Trust, the report looked at safeguarding procedures over five years up to 2017 and discovered a "culture of tolerating harm".

The findings included the lives of patients being "compromised", safeguarding procedures not being followed, a seclusion room that wasn't monitored, and the likelihood that patients would be harmed by their peers.

Mr Pengelly said one the aim was now for Muckamore Abbey to no longer serve as a residential facility, and that "no one should have to call Muckamore their home in future, when there are better options for their care".

He said he had outlined this aim to the parents of patients.

“That means Muckamore returns to being a hospital providing acute care, and not simply a residential facility," he said.

“To make that happen will require investment in both specialised accommodation and staff training to meet the complex needs of people who no longer need to be in hospital.”

This process is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, something which means finding alternative accommodation for patients who have been long-term residents at the facility despite not requiring in-patient treatment.

Mr Pengelly added: “I fully recognise that the December 2019 deadline for the resettlement process will be challenging, but the Department owes it to patients and their families to be demanding.”

Since revelations about treatment of patients at the home came to light there have been calls for a public inquiry.

Mr Pengelly said he wished to assure the families that he has "not ruled out any options regarding further scrutiny of the serious failings at Muckamore".

“Active investigations into wrongdoing are ongoing by both the PSNI and the Belfast Trust as employer. The ongoing police investigation clearly takes primacy over any other process at present," he said.

Mr Pengelly also said he would be having regular meetings with the families to keep them updated on developments and address any new concerns they may have.

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