Secretary of State Julian Smith apologises to families of Muckamore Abbey patients
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has apologised to families over abuse at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
Julian Smith met with the father of a patient on Tuesday, who is among some of those at the centre of the investigation into abuse at the facility.
The meeting was the first time Mr Smith has heard first hand from those involved in the case, which has caused considerable public outrage since it was first reported.
A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: "The Secretary of State was grateful for the meeting with Mr Brown and was very sorry to hear of his case, and the many others, where there are allegations of very serious abuse.
"It would not be appropriate to comment further on a private meeting."
A previous independent review concluded that improvements are needed in leadership and management at Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Northern Ireland.
The centre just outside Antrim town provides inpatient facilities for those with learning difficulties and mental health issues.
An expert report was commissioned in September 2017, following reports of inappropriate behaviour and alleged physical abuse of patients by staff in two wards.
Reviewers raised concerns about the safeguarding of adults, provision of meaningful activities for patients and physical health care.
The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, which commissioned the report, did not publish the draft document but confirmed it had suspended 13 members of staff.
It said: "We want to place on record our sincere apologies to those patients and their families affected by staff behaviours which fell significantly below professional standards and were unacceptable."
On Monday, senior Trust staff met with families to discuss the findings and draft recommendations of the report into safeguarding at the care facility.
Ongoing investigations are being carried out by the PSNI and social workers.
The Trust's statement said: "We have taken decisive action, which included placing 13 members of staff on precautionary suspension.
"We are actively working on improving leadership and management arrangements at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, with the goal of ensuring that the voices of patients, family carers, advocates and others are clearly and effectively part of the future arrangements in Muckamore Abbey Hospital."
A director oversight group led by the director of nursing and the director of adult, social and primary care is in place.
The Trust separately commissioned a fully independent team to undertake a review of the broader factors in play at Muckamore, to provide a clear picture of what happened and to make recommendations on how to improve safeguarding.
The Trust said: "The findings highlighted that improvements are required in leadership and management, adult safeguarding approaches, advocacy, access to meaningful activities for patients and physical health care.
"We fully accept all the findings and we will now work to ensure these are delivered.
"The report strongly urges the Trust and the wider health, social care and housing organisations to re-double their efforts to ensure that patients do not have to live in hospital environments.
"It recommends patients are enabled to live full lives in the community, with access to the right specialist multi-disciplinary support in the right accommodation."
Draft recommendations include:
- A renewed commitment to enabling people with learning disabilities and autism to have full lives in their communities;
- Delivery of robust community services which recognise the full range of needs of people and families throughout their lives.
- Assessment and treatment units should be closer to home and effective long-term quality accommodation options should be available.