Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena nursing unit shut 'because of staff fears for residents'

By Lisa Smyth

A nursing unit for the elderly and terminally ill has been shut amid claims of a staff walkout over concerns for the safety of residents.

Families of people living at Rose Court in Ballymena were given two weeks to find alternative accommodation for their loved ones as a result.

It has been claimed that nursing staff warned Runwood Homes, the firm at the centre of the Dunmurry Manor care home scandal, that they would leave their jobs if their concerns were not addressed.

The family of a resident said a nurse told them that the staff quit their jobs when this did not happen.

Runwood Homes has said the closure of the service came as a result of a UK-wide shortage of nurses and it has "total confidence" in the senior management team, describing the home managers as "excellent".

Fiona O'Neill's 89-year-old mother Margaret is in hospital after an unexplained fall at Rose Court.

She said: "I'm horrified by what has happened to my mum, we're heartbroken.

"She was the only person left in the nursing unit, because we hadn't been able to find anywhere willing or able to take her.

"She hasn't been sleeping, because she has osteoarthritis and is in agony with it.

"Apparently, on Sunday night she wouldn't go to bed, so she was brought down to the residential wing and sat on a chair in the lounge.

"She was found lying on the floor at 1.30am.

"She's been diagnosed with pneumonia and fluid on her lungs, she is very sore, she is very confused and agitated.

"Then we got a phone call from Rose Court on Monday while mum was in hospital saying that as far as they were concerned she had been discharged from their care when she left in the ambulance in the middle of the night and she wouldn't be allowed back."

Ms O'Neill, a nurse from Newtownabbey, said the family had already come to the decision to remove her mother from the home following a catalogue of what they termed horrific treatment.

She sobbed as she said: "My father died three years ago and until then they lived independently together at home and then daddy died four weeks before their 64th wedding anniversary. This is what she's been reduced to, but she doesn't complain.

"Very rarely she will say that isn't very much compared to what she had, what do you say to that?

"When we went to the trust, the person who is supposed to be her advocate told us she was impatient, because she wouldn't wait 15 minutes to be taken to the toilet.

"Where's my mum's dignity, when is the Northern Trust and Runwood Homes going to look at the whole woman and person that she is?

"She's come through so much, she's a mother, a grandmother, great grandmother, a sister, an aunt.

"Where do they look at her as an individual and provide the person-centred care that she needs and deserves?

"I'm a nurse and I'm disgusted with what I've seen. They're all blaming everyone else for the failures instead of trying to do their best for my mum.

"All we want is for them to make it right for her."

Among the failings the family say they witnessed and Mrs O'Neill, who has diabetes, experienced during her 18-month stay at Rose Court are:

  • Her blood glucose readings were at a dangerously high level but staff at the home failed to act.
  • Her medication chart was incorrectly filled in and Mrs O'Neill went 48 hours without pain relief despite a GP stating she needed the medication every four to six hours.
  • A podiatrist was allowed to cut Mrs O'Neill's toenails despite repeated requests from the family that this should only be done by the trust podiatrist - she subsequently had a toe amputated as the result of an unexplained ulcer.

Photographs of Mrs O'Neill's room show filthy equipment even after the family complained to the management about the shocking conditions.

The family say they repeatedly found communal net underwear in their mother's room despite providing proper underwear and repeatedly asking that they cease using the net underwear on her.

It was said one resident waited four hours to be taken to the toilet just a matter of weeks ago.

Another resident who asked to be taken to the toilet was told they didn't need to go, as they were wearing a pad.

In April this year the family say they became so exasperated by the treatment being endured by their mother that they made a formal complaint to Rose Court management.

They were forced to follow it up with an email on June 18 as they had not received a response.

Ms O'Neill said: "It does not fill me with confidence that Runwood Homes are dedicated to providing high quality, dignified care and to take seriously complaints or concerns raised by those residents or family members.

"Yet again, Runwood management response is unacceptably poor."

Essex-based Runwood Homes was slammed by the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland in June for a catalogue of neglect and abuse at another one of its care homes.

Eddie Lynch issued a damning indictment of the company for the treatment of residents at Dunmurry Manor.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's health watchdog took the unprecedented step of closing another Runwood facility, Ashbrooke Care Home in Enniskillen, last August as it believed it posed a serious risk to life.

Reacting to Mrs O'Neill's ordeal, Mr Lynch said: "I am shocked to hear about this lady's experience and hope that she is now receiving the care she needs.

"This is particularly concerning to hear, given that my office sought and received assurances within the last month from the trust when a different concern was raised with us about Rose Court.

"The fact that this is happening on the heels of my Home Truths report into a different Runwood Home gives me even more cause for concern.

"Authorities must act now to implement all of my recommendations, to ensure our older people are safe and well cared for."

Aidan Hanna from NI Patient Voice said it is time for the Department of Health to act.

"Runwood Homes is simply not fit for purpose," he said.

"For them to maintain the line that they provide an excellent service and respond to issues quickly is laughable in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.

"If the Rose Court unit was closed because of a shortage of nurses, then why are other homes, that are properly run, able to attract and retain staff?"

Response from Northern Trust

The Northern Trust said: "The Northern Trust was made aware on August 9, 2018, of the decision by Runwood Homes to reconfigure the Slemish Unit within Rose Court Home, from a general nursing unit with 31 beds to a residential unit specifically for people with dementia.

"This was necessary due to a shortage of nurses required to provide care in the nursing unit.

"None of the other units within Rose Court are affected. The safety and wellbeing of service users is always our main priority.

"We can confirm that we have worked closely with a total of 25 affected service users and their families to ensure that suitable alternatives were identified as quickly as possible and any specific concerns addressed."

Response from Runwood Homes

Runwood Homes said: "The decision to repurpose the nursing unit at Rose Court, Ballymena, as a residential unit was taken in early August after consultation with key stakeholders concluded that the continued management of a nursing service was not viable due to a national, ongoing shortage of registered nurses. For legal and professional reasons, we cannot go into the specifics of care for individual residents.

"However, we can say this resident was made several offers of alternative accommodation and has turned them all down because she wishes to remain at Rose Court.

"Going forward, we cannot admit any residents who require nursing care as the nursing unit is now replaced by a residential model of care.

"The board of directors for Runwood Homes have total confidence in the senior management team overseeing service delivery in Northern Ireland and the excellent team of home managers providing person-centred care on a daily basis."

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