Health watchdog accused of damage limitation as it begins probe into failings at care home in Dunmurry
The chief of Northern Ireland's health watchdog has launched an investigation into the catalogue of horrors uncovered at a care home on the outskirts of west Belfast.
The Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland (COPNI) published a damning report in June into conditions at Dunmurry Manor, in which he outlined inhumane and degrading treatment of residents.
Eddie Lynch also criticised the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), the body which regulates care homes here, in his report.
However, RQIA chief executive Olive Macleod has said she does not accept all of the findings in the report and now she has revealed she is looking into the matter herself.
In a letter written to Julieann McNally, a relative of a former resident, Ms Macleod said: "I have the names of a small number of families and will be meeting in the near future.
"I have requested the remaining names from the commissioner to allow me to investigate."
Ms Macleod wrote to Ms McNally on July 26 following comments the west Belfast woman made about the RQIA response to the COPNI report.
In the letter Ms Macleod clarified the fact that she met with Ms McNally in February, ahead of the publication of the COPNI report.
However, she did not take issue with other comments made by Ms McNally that she has not apologised for any failings by the RQIA.
Responding to the letter, Ms McNally said: "Sinn Fein requested a meeting with the RQIA on my behalf on June 19 and we still haven't had confirmation that a meeting will happen.
"Yes, I met with Olive Macleod on a number of occasions prior to the COPNI report being published, but I'm obviously very keen to meet with the RQIA now all the findings have been published.
"I don't understand what is so difficult about that."
Ms McNally said that after the report was published, she believed that Ms McLeod was the best person to lead the improvements required, but she has now changed her mind.
"The commissioner has carried out a 16-month investigation, the Department of Health has announced an independent review into the response of the likes of the RQIA and the trusts into what was happening at Dunmurry.
"Why is Olive Macleod carrying out her own investigation now instead of getting on with implementing the recommended changes?"
SDLP councillor Brian Heading said it appeared that the RQIA was involved in a damage limitation exercise. He compared the RQIA response to that of the Belfast Trust in relation to the deaths of five children from hyponatraemia.
An independent review published earlier this year found that the trust was more concerned with protecting its own reputation than ensuring no other deaths from hyponatraemia would occur.
Mr Heading said: "It's time that the RQIA stops circling the wagons and gets on with making the changes needed to safeguard some of the most vulnerable people in society.
"I know the RQIA has taken issue with the comments made by the commissioner in relation to resident-on-resident sex abuse.
"However, no one was suggesting these people were acting in a criminal way, instead the commissioner was criticising the handling of the issue."
Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan contacted the RQIA on June 19 requesting a meeting between the organisation and affected families.
He said the purpose of the meeting was to "discuss the report's findings, implications and next steps".
RQIA acknowledged the response and said they would be in touch shortly regarding the request. However, a meeting has yet to be scheduled.
The RQIA was asked whether Ms Macleod will meet with Ms McNally again and whether she plans to make an apology.
A spokesman said Ms Macleod met with Ms McNally in February 2018 to discuss her concerns relating to her grandmother's care while she was a resident at Dunmurry Manor.
He continued: "RQIA's chief executive has also met with those families we have been able to identify from COPNI's report.
"There are a number of individuals we have been unable to identify from the report, and we have written to COPNI, requesting their details to allow us hear directly of their experiences.
"RQIA is currently preparing a full response to COPNI's report and recommendations, in line with his timescales."