Muckamore Abbey Hospital: Staff delivering their best despite challenges, says union
Staff at a scandal-hit Northern Ireland hospital are doing their very best despite the challenging circumstances, a trade union has said.
NIPSA said the public needed to be assured safeguarding measures were in place for patients and staff were being supported with concerns constantly monitored and addressed.
The Department of Health said "every practical step" was being taken to manage Muckamore Abbey Hospital and gave an assurance the care provided was safe, "and that all necessary actions will continue to be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of all patients".
Twenty-eight staff have been suspended at Muckamore with a police investigation underway into allegations of patent abuse.
The BBC has revealed two senior management posts at the facility are vacant with the family of one patient saying they were concerned about staffing levels.
They urged family and friends visiting patients to support the workers saying it was clear staffing was at a "critical level" and it was clearly visible it was difficult to cover wards.
The BBC reported half of staff are either agency or from health trust bank workers.
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.
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.
It said any decision on future services would be taken after consultation with all involved.
"This is an unprecedented situation in the health service in Northern Ireland," said Damien Maguire, joint branch secretary for trade union NIPSA's 730 Belfast health branch.
Mr Maguire said a public inquiry into the hospital - which is the regional centre for those with learning difficulties needs - needed to be held.
"It needs to look at safeguarding arrangements, the actions of the inspector the RQAI, and the role of the Department of Health," he said.
"Also many patients have been in Muckamore longer than what they should. And we need to have explanations as to why that happened."
He said due process had to take place in regard to the abuse allegations and the Belfast Trust also needed to carry out its own internal review into what happened.
"There is great concern for staffing levels," he said, "qualified nurses are among those suspended.
"The trust and the Department of Health need to reassure the public they are able to meet the needs of patients in the hospital and if any deficiencies are found, they are addressed as soon as possible.
"Patients and staff needed to be safeguarded. They are using a lot of agency and bank staff to cover gaps, so obviously they feel they are doing that now.
"There is a skilled committed staff team and they need every support.
"Belfast Trust is taking the necessary steps - clearly it is down so many qualified nurses in particular - and that needs kept under constant review."
He said there would no doubt questions over the future of the hosptial.
"It's been there a long time, patients have had a quality service but clearly something has gone wrong.
"What ever happens in the future it has to be delicately handled. It is a regional hospital taking patients from other trusts.
He added: "The people in Muckamore are highly specialised, highly professional, dedicated and committed to their job. They are trying and are doing their very best in what are very challenging circumstances.
"There is a lot of staff with no allegations against them acting above and beyond."
"They are devastated at what's happened and determined to do their best and they are.
"And the trusts have plans and they are working to expedite them. They know the spotlight is on them and they have to act according and as soon as possible.
"They need to constantly review staffing levels and patient needs and ensure any concerns are addressed as soon as possible.
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.”
“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 Belfast Trust has assured the department that the care being provided in Muckamore is safe.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital