Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Poots backs public inquiry after Muckamore Abbey abuse claims

Concerns: Edwin Poots
Concerns: Edwin Poots

By Lisa Smyth

Former health minister Edwin Poots has given his support to a public inquiry into learning disability services in Northern Ireland.

The DUP MLA said any official probe should go further than just looking into the alleged abuse suffered by patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

Mr Poots' brother was a patient at Muckamore and he said families across Northern Ireland have been left devastated by the possibility that their loved ones may also have suffered while in the care of an NHS facility.

"My mother was of the belief that her son received good care in Muckamore for the period of time he was in there," he said.

"With everything that has come up, you look at things now and you're not so sure.

"Making the decision for a relative to go into somewhere like Muckamore Abbey isn't something that anyone takes lightly.

"In the case of my mother, she had desperately bad health herself and her doctor basically laid down the law with her and told her she would actually shorten her own life if she didn't let her child go.

"He went into Muckamore when he was five and it was heart-breaking for them to let him go, but through it all she always felt he was receiving good care.

"It's very hard to think that something else may have been the case; it's something you don't even like to contemplate, but you have to because of everything that's now in the public domain."

Mr Poots said it is difficult to accept that the issues uncovered at Muckamore are unique to the facility, which is on the outskirts of Antrim.

As a result, he said any official investigation should look at the service as a whole.

"You do have to question whether the focus should be entirely on Muckamore and whether any other institution should be examined," he continued.

"I think it would be unwise to think Muckamore is the only facility where problems of this nature have arisen."

Mr Poots also said it was "unacceptable" for senior management at Belfast Trust to say they were unaware of the issues at Muckamore.

It comes after the trust's chief executive, Martin Dillon, said CCTV footage showing abuse of patients was not made available to senior management.

He put this down to a culture that had developed where "unacceptable practice began to be tolerated".

He also said there probably was a "tendency in my organisation ... not to lend credence" to allegations of abuse being made by patients.

However, DUP MP Gavin Robinson has criticised the timing of Mr Dillon's comments, saying that it came as no surprise that the first time Mr Dillon had spoken publicly about the matter was when the prospect of a public inquiry was gaining traction.

He said: "I heard him say he leads a learning organisation.

"Belfast Trust has learned little from the Hyponatraemia Inquiry, during which they were castigated for being awkward, unwilling and evasive of truth.

"The last 18 months have shown they've learned nothing.

"Why should a family have to rely on freedom of information requests to establish whether risk assessments have been carried out on their loved one's care?

"Why is candour so hard to find? Why, from the outset, have the Trust adopted a closed, defensive, dishonourable stance with families?

"Following the first whistleblower who approached me in August 2017, I have received a number of new, shocking revelations. With too many questions and too few answers, a public inquiry is the only way to shine a light on this heart-breaking outrage."

A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust said that clear guidance and policies are in place for staff to report concerns to management.

She continued: "However, we have been clear from the outset that there was a delay in reporting incidents from ward staff to management and this is a learning point for the organisation.

"As soon as incidents were reported to hospital managers, swift action was taken.

"These actions included the precautionary suspension of staff and appropriate referrals to adult safeguarding and the PSNI."

She said the trust had accepted there were shortcomings in the timing of reporting in relation to this matter to the Department of Health and had apologised to the department for this.

"The Department has accepted this apology," she added.

There have been 19 precautionary staff suspensions as a result of the examination of CCTV footage.

The trust came under fire after it emerged that it had failed to pass on CCTV footage to the regulatory body.

This meant a number of nurses who were suspended by the Nursing and Midwifery Council after the abuse came to light were able to argue in the High Court that their suspensions should be overturned.

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