Relatives of two former patients give emotional testimony to public inquiry, telling of forced seclusion and heavy drugging under ‘Victorian model of care’
The mother of a Muckamore Abbey Hospital patient who died following a battle with mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction has suggested to a public inquiry her daughter should still be alive.
The harrowing evidence came as part of a probe into the abuse of residents at the facility.
Kirsty was treated at Muckamore between 2016 and 2018 when she was in her late 20s.
She had begun treatment in Knockbracken around 10 years earlier, and died of a heart attack in 2020, aged 31.
“Kirsty left school at 16 years old,” her mother said.
“I noticed she was acting strangely in the house, and I worked out she’d been smoking cannabis.
“She was honest about it — admitted she’d been doing it from 14.”
She recalled how she helped Kirsty get a job, but said her daughter “couldn’t cope” and eventually quit due to addiction issues.
“I didn’t know what to do so I took her to a GP, who diagnosed her with paranoid psychosis and a personality disorder,” her mum added.
“To this day I don’t know why she was ever transferred to Muckamore.
“Kirsty looked like, and was, a completely different person afterwards — she was not her usual bubbly self.”
The witness told the inquiry “fresh bruises” would often appear on her daughter’s arms, and described how she ballooned in weight after being admitted.
“Kirsty went from a size 10 to a size 20, she was bloated and overweight,” she said.
“She would say: ‘Mummy, look at my arms’. And said she was being put in seclusion, but that she did not want to go.
“I tried to complain but Kirsty said: ‘You will never beat the mental health staff, they are too strong’. The staff were a law unto themselves.”
The mother said it was her belief Kirsty was forced into seclusion because she knew what was happening at the hospital.
She also recalled how a nurse at Muckamore told Kirsty “her family didn’t want her”, to explain how she had ended up in the facility.
The distraught mother claimed staff kept her daughter “drugged up on 22 tablets a day” and regularly gave her injections in her hip.
“Kirsty was sleepy and drowsy all the time,” she added.
“She never received treatment for her drug and alcohol addiction.
“The health system and social services failed my daughter. She was not a nasty person, she was bubbly and kind.
“I wanted to know why Kirsty was in Muckamore, why she was moved and why she was on medication to make her sleepy — but I got no answers.”
She said her daughter’s own concerns were also ignored by hospital staff and support workers.
She broke down as photos of Kirsty were shown to the inquiry, which paused briefly to allow her to recompose herself.
“It breaks my heart,” she sobbed.
“Her wee face breaks my heart — if Kirsty had got the proper help she needed [she would be alive].”
The testimony followed a woman who described how her disabled brother was subjected to a “Victorian model of care” over 25 years at Muckamore.
Martin was an inpatient and outpatient at the hospital, after first being admitted for initial assessment in 1990.
“When he was six my parents removed him because another patient, a 16-year-old, liked to go into Martin’s bedroom and sleep beside him,” Antoinette said.
“But staff thought that was sweet.”
She said her parents successfully fought to keep Martin as an outpatient, but as he got older his care needs became more complex and he was admitted on a full-time basis at the age of 16.
“He was a healthy weight in August, about 7st 5lb, but by Christmas he dropped to under 5st,” his sister recalled as she referred to photographic evidence.
The inquiry heard he was moved around several different wards from 2002 to 2015 and his parents were reluctant to raise concerns in case it affected their son’s treatment.
“My parents went in and saw Martin being pinned to the ground by three carers,” Antoinette said.
“He was red in the face, fighting and sweating, trying to get up. Martin was only 5ft 2in and one of the three men was over 6ft.
“They also used splints on him, which ran from his elbows to his wrists. They were never used on him at home. Martin takes time — the splints allowed people to put them on and just leave him.”
The first witness to describe the impact of the abuse on relatives of patients said her parents’ fear turned out to be justified as visiting access was restricted when her mum and dad flagged concerns.
“My parents were told there was no longer an open-door policy. There was no doubt it was explicitly linked,” Antoinette said.
The situation worsened in May 2014 when her parents received a phone call to notify them Martin had been assaulted.
However, the family had to wait until the court case against the staff member involved, known as H1, to find out exactly what happened.
“He was in the shower room and H1 pushed him against the wall and he hit his head off the tiled wall. He was also verbally abused,” Antoinette revealed.
“My parents and I were shocked that H1 was allowed to return to work while awaiting trial; we had also been told by a PSNI liaison officer that H1 had assaulted another patient on the same day.”
However, H1 was eventually acquitted of common assault and ill treatment under the mental health order because a key witness changed their statement.
Another incident involved a staff member, known as H2, who accepted a police caution for throwing a bottle of water over Martin’s head and making fun of him while a co-worker laughed.
“H2 was put back on the ward,” Antoinette said.
Other alleged incidents involved a carer “violently shoving” Martin into his wheelchair, an accidental overdose described as a “near miss”, and the appearance of a large gash on the patient’s head.
No one was able to account for the wound despite the fact Martin was being monitored around the clock.
Antoinette revealed how her family made serious complaints about “systemic abuse” to the hospital directly and to politicians at Stormont, including former Health Minister Jim Wells in 2015.
However, she recalled being told by staff that “people lose their tempers” and that “everyone knows CCTV doesn’t work”.
Martin’s sister warned that some of the agency workers who provided a “Victorian model of care” are still on wards throughout the health service as she described how her brother now has his smile back.
“He has resettled in new accommodation,” she said.
“They stole his voice and his joy, but he has it back now.”