Muckamore staffing levels are safe, insist bosses at health trust
Health bosses have insisted that staffing levels at Muckamore Abbey Hospital are safe in spite of staff shortages.
Officials at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, responsible for the management of the Antrim facility, said they monitor the situation on a daily basis and use bank and agency staff when required.
The trust and Department of Health are coming under increasing pressure to address allegations of institutional abuse and a staffing crisis at the hospital which has resulted in the closure of its psychiatric intensive care unit.
Health chiefs are also facing legal action by relatives of patients in the face of CCTV evidence showing staff abusing residents.
The director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, Janice Smyth, voiced concern at reports of a "critical" shortage of staff.
She said: "Learning disability nursing is an extremely specialised area of nursing and it is important that patients with complex learning disabilities get continuity of care.
"There is a shortage of nurses generally and a shortage of experienced specialist learning disability nurses and that is something that needs to be addressed, because the increased need for these very specialist nurses and the ongoing shortage has led to the unfolding situation."
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust said that while it face challenges relating to staffing levels, the situation is constantly monitored and it "remains safe".
She continued: "There are staff vacancies currently at Muckamore Abbey Hospital and we are actively recruiting to fill these vacancies.
"The situation is improving and we anticipate this improvement to continue.
"Belfast Trust wishes to clarify that while the psychiatric intensive care unit is currently closed at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, there are currently no patients who require this service.
"In the event that an individual requires psychiatric intensive care, the trust has in place a contingency plan to deliver this service in another part of the hospital.
"The trust is taking this opportunity to complete necessary and planned improvements to the physical environment of the unit, as well as increasing the skill mix in the multi-disciplinary team."
There have also been calls for health bosses to act after it emerged that 38 people are living at Muckamore Abbey while waiting for appropriate care packages to be put in place to allow them to be discharged.
Mencap NI, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities, has said it was appalled to learn the extent of the problem.
Director Margaret Kelly told BBC News that she was "shocked and horrified" by the figure.
"That is 38 men and women who are left living in what is an institution and that in effect means they are being deprived of their liberty.
"It isn't good enough and we can't accept that it's just to do with lack of funding. Organisations like ourselves and others want to help and we can."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said a summit meeting of senior health officials from across Northern Ireland would be held later this month, at which the permanent secretary Richard Pengelly would make it clear that he expects them "to prioritise the resettlement of residents from Muckamore Abbey Hospital".