Welfare of patients and workers at Muckamore compromised by levels of staffing, claims union
A union representing staff at Muckamore Abbey Hospital has claimed that the care and welfare of both patients and staff at the facility has been compromised due to staffing levels.
In a statement, Nipsa criticised the "apparent inability" of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to "deliver a safe and appropriate working environment for these very vulnerable, but often challenging patients, to have the care delivered that they and their families are entitled to expect".
It came after the Belfast Trust issued an unreserved apology for the treatment of some patients at the hospital, which caters for adults with severe learning disabilities, mental health needs or challenging behaviour.
On Thursday it revealed that a safeguarding operation has been under way since September, and 13 members of staff have been suspended, with 10 more being interviewed as witnesses.
The Belfast Trust said that, due to a review of archived CCTV footage, "a further number of past incidents have been brought to our attention in the last week".
The reports of inappropriate behaviour and alleged physical abuse centred on two wards, one of which was the psychiatric intensive care unit.
Police said yesterday that they are currently investigating 42 incidents.
Three staff members have been interviewed and reports sent to the Public Prosecution Service.
The PSNI investigation is continuing.
Separately, an expert panel is to independently review the standard of care at Muckamore Abbey.
A woman whose brother is a patient at the hospital told BBC Evening Extra she hoped the issues would be "fully and thoroughly investigated".
"It does cast a shadow, there's no doubt about it, it does knock your confidence," said the relative, a member of the Society of Parents and Friends of Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
The Nipsa branch yesterday said it had been raising concerns over staffing levels "for some time".
It said: "Many staff across Muckamore Abbey Hospital have suffered emotional and psychological distress as well as significant, and on occasion, lifelong injuries intervening in incidents to try and ensure the safety of patients, other staff and members of the public.
"This is not to condone staff stepping outside established protocols and policies that are in place to contribute to the management of challenging behaviours when they arise."
The union said it supports a "transparent and effective investigation" but felt resource and training issues "lie at the root of much of these scenarios".
Nipsa officials said they had been raising concerns over staffing levels with the Belfast Trust "for some time".
They continued: "In our view, the care and welfare of both patients and staff has been compromised, as the trust has not fully staffed Muckamore Abbey Hospital at the required level for some years.
"There has been an over-reliance on bank and agency staff across wards and the removal of staff from day care services to shore up shortages elsewhere in the hospital.
"This has led to staff teams being depleted and a loss of practice experience among many staff groups in this hospital.
"The failure of the trust to deal with these staffing issues has always had the potential to lead to the situation currently unfolding."
Unison said it had met with its members at the hospital to discuss concerns.
It said: "Ensuring the safety of all patients and service users at Muckamore Abbey must be a priority."
Health watchdog the RQIA said it was "aware of the allegations of abuse of patients in Muckamore Abbey Hospital".
It added: "Under the Protocol for the Joint Investigation of Alleged and Suspected Cases of Abuse of Vulnerable Adults, led by the Belfast HSC Trust and the PSNI, RQIA is kept informed of current and ongoing investigations."
RQIA declined to comment further due to the ongoing investigation.
PSNI Superintendent Ryan Henderson said police were "working closely with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust regarding a number of allegations into the ill-treatment of patients at Muckamore Abbey hospital".
The Belfast Trust declined to add to its statement from earlier in the week.