Nursing chief's horror over assaults on five patients at Muckamore Abbey
Revelations that five vulnerable patients were assaulted by staff at Muckamore Abbey Hospital over a three-year period have been described as "horrendous".
Janice Smyth, the Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), was reacting to news that between 2014 and 2017, 53 incidents of assaults on patients by staff were reported. Five of these were investigated and substantiated.
Some 4,546 incidents of physical abuse, assault or violence by patients on staff were reported during the same period and 193 instances of stress-related staff sickness.
Since November 2017, 13 members of staff working at the Co Antrim hospital have been suspended after allegations of ill-treatment were made.
A total of 39 patients have resided in the hospital for over a year, with some having delayed discharge of periods ranging from two to 10 years.
The figures were obtained by the BBC via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Belfast Trust. In its FoI response, the Belfast Trust said "all incidents of assaults on patients by staff are reported and fully investigated under the adult safeguarding policy".
Last week the health body issued an unreserved apology for the treatment of some patients at the hospital.
Muckamore Abbey is located just outside Antrim and provides inpatient facilities for vulnerable adults with learning difficulties and mental health issues.
A hospital whistleblower previously warned "someone is going to get killed" if issues at the facility were not addressed and made claims of "rampant" violent assaults on staff and a "dangerous work environment".
Speaking yesterday, the RCN Northern Ireland director voiced shock that nurses employed to provide care for vulnerable patients had been investigated and allegations substantiated that patients had been assaulted.
Ms Smyth added: "It is horrendous. One assault on a patient is one too many and the majority of nurses you would speak to would tell you that, or anybody working in healthcare. I think it is very sad that that has happened and each one of those warranted absolute investigation to see the circumstances that led to that."
She added: "It is also a matter of grave concern that there have been 4,546 incidents of physical abuse, assault or violence by patients on staff reported during the same period.
"It is therefore unsurprising that staff are absent from work due to stress. The 80 patients accommodated in Muckamore Abbey Hospital have complex needs and are amongst the most vulnerable in our society."
Billy Moore, from the Society of the Parents and Friends of Muckamore Abbey, has urged management to take control of the situation and turn things around.
An expert panel has since been set up to independently review the standard of care in Muckamore Abbey.
A February 2018 report by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) identified concerns over staffing at the hospital.
A spokesman for the RQIA said yesterday that it is "aware of the allegations of abuse of patients in Muckamore" and being kept "informed of current and ongoing investigations".
The Belfast Trust added: "Due to the ongoing investigations into the allegations at Muckamore, we are unable to comment further."