Belfast Telegraph

Nurse suspended for lewd texting worked at Muckamore Abbey

Misconduct: James Houston
Misconduct: James Houston

By Lisa Smyth

A nurse who sent sexually explicit messages to colleagues at a children's mental health hospital also worked at Muckamore Abbey, it can be revealed.

James Houston was last week suspended from working as a nurse for one year after two junior colleagues accused him of touching them inappropriately and sending them unwanted and lewd text messages.

It has now emerged that Mr Houston continued working in learning disabled services across the Belfast Trust for a year after the incidents at the Iveagh Centre in west Belfast came to light.

One of the Belfast Trust facilities where he worked was Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

The hospital, on the outskirts of Antrim, is currently at the centre of a major police probe after CCTV footage apparently showed nurses striking adult patients with severe learning disabilities and mental illnesses.

It has also emerged in August 2018, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) suspended Mr Houston's licence to practise as part of its probe into the abuse scandal at Muckamore Abbey.

However, this was overturned in February this year when the High Court ruled the NMC had insufficient evidence to justify the suspension.

Details of Mr Houston's employment are the latest devastating blow for families of residents at Muckamore Abbey.

The revelations have prompted renewed calls for a public inquiry into the harrowing allegations of assaults and abuse of residents at the hospital.

Aidan Hanna from NI Patient Voice said: "I'm absolutely appalled that this has happened. It's little wonder that the public have so little faith in the service being provided to people with learning disabilities when this type of information is coming to light through the media.

"This was also a safeguarding matter and should have been treated as such to establish if any of the inappropriate behaviour was witnessed by the children being treated there.

"If ever there was proof of the requirement for a public inquiry into Muckamore Abbey, this is it."

Solicitor Claire McKeegan, who represents a number of relatives of Muckamore patients, said: "The families are deeply upset and angry to be told that this individual was permitted to work at Muckamore.

"It further highlights the systemic failings of the Belfast Trust.

"It is unthinkable that an individual who is the subject of an investigation in one institution could work in another within the same trust and particularly in a setting where patients are so vulnerable.

"The families have questions that must be answered surrounding the practices and decision making that led to this crisis. They insist on a full public inquiry."

An investigation into allegations of improper behaviour by Mr Houston while he was working at the Iveagh Centre was carried out by the Belfast Trust throughout June and July 2017.

However, the trust did not refer him to the NMC until December 2017.

A Belfast Trust spokesman said: "We take all allegations of misconduct extremely seriously and immediately launched an internal investigation.

"We did not hesitate to refer this member of staff to the regulator, which in this instance was the NMC.

"Following the investigations and subsequent hearing the staff member was dismissed."

Despite repeated requests, the trust would not clarify whether the action it took arose as a result of allegations Mr Houston faced from his time working at the Iveagh or Muckamore Abbey.

Mr Houston appeared in front of an NMC fitness to practise panel last week where he was found guilty of a range of sexually motivated behaviour. The panel said Mr Houston's conduct "related to a pattern of behaviour over a period of some 12 months" and continued even after his victims asked him to stop.

The panel also ruled it had the potential to place patients at Iveagh Centre at "potential risk of harm".

In deciding to suspend Mr Houston's licence to practise for 12 months instead of issuing a striking off order, the panel noted there were no concerns about his clinical skills and that the misconduct, whilst serious, "was not fundamentally incompatible with you continuing to be a registered nurse and that the public interest considerations in this case could be satisfied by a less severe outcome than permanent removal from the register".

The panel noted there was no direct involvement of patients, no criminal conviction and Mr Houston was not registered as a sex offender.

It also said Mr Houston had engaged with the NMC, had shown insight and expressed remorse.

"The panel concluded that it would be appropriate and proportionate, in all the circumstances, to give you the opportunity to reflect further on your actions, in order to fully appreciate the concerns identified in your practice," it added.

Belfast Telegraph


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