Health chiefs play down Muckamore staffing concerns
Health officials have insisted contingency plans are in place after serious concerns were raised about staffing levels at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
Almost 30 staff have been suspended since an investigation into alleged abuse of patients was launched.
The Department of Health said: "Business continuity plans are constantly revised and updated and there is an ongoing process to ensure appropriate contingency plans are in place to reflect the pressures facing Muckamore Abbey Hospital."
It comes after Brigene McNeilly, from the Society of the Parents and Friends of Muckamore Abbey, warned that staffing is at a "critical level".
She said "it's visible that wards are difficult to cover" at the Co Antrim site.
"We are urging families and friends who visit to help those staff who are there looking after our loved ones," she told the BBC.
Ms McNeilly's brother has lived at Muckamore Abbey for more than 30 years. He is not on one of the wards involved in the investigation.
Four nurses and four care assistants were among the latest to be placed on precautionary suspension, bringing the total number of employees suspended to 28.
Police are continuing to review 300,000 hours of CCTV footage which has already revealed 1,500 incidents on a single ward and prompted fresh calls for a public inquiry.
Two of the most senior positions - co-director of learning disability services and service manager - are currently vacant at the hospital.
Mairead Mitchell, who was acting as co-director, retired in May.
The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has confirmed it is planning a further recruitment exercise, however, specialist nurses are in short supply in Northern Ireland.
It has been reported that 50% of the current workforce is made up of bank staff or agency workers, with a pool of nurses from England being used to fill rotas, particularly at weekends.
The Department of Health insists it is working with the Belfast Trust and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) to ensure the safe and effective operation of Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
"Suspensions contribute to the challenge of maintaining required staffing levels and every practical step is being taken to manage the facility at this very difficult time," the department continued.
"The Belfast Trust has assured the department that the care being provided in Muckamore is safe."
They promised that "all necessary actions will continue to be taken to ensure the safety and well-being" of patients.