Editor's Viewpoint: Trust's statement on Muckamore welcome
In his report in January into the deaths of five children in Northern Ireland hospitals from hyponatraemia, Mr Justice O'Hara recommended that health professionals should have a duty of candour imposed on them. He had pointed out that he had found it impossible to determine exactly what happened during an operation on one of the children.
It may not be exactly what he had in mind, but the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust yesterday evening issued a uniquely frank statement into the treatment of some patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
In the statement the Trust "apologised unreservedly" to patients and their relatives for treatment which "falls significantly below acceptable professional standards".
This reads like an admission that patients were treated inappropriately, an approach health trusts usually only take after exhaustive inquiries have produced compelling evidence.
The statement goes on to refer to this "regrettable and unacceptable situation" and to the Trust's "profound sadness" at the situation.
Investigations into alleged inappropriate behaviour and alleged physical abuse of patients in two wards by staff began last September and four members of staff were suspended. Now, another nine, mostly nurses, have been suspended following fresh complaints and a review of archived CCTV footage.
It is encouraging that the Trust has acted swiftly on the foot of complaints and that it is to meet relatives to explain what measures are being taken and how the safety and welfare of vulnerable patients remains a priority for the Trust at this hospital.
An expert panel has been formed to independently review the standard of care at Muckamore, although whether this will be sufficient to allay the concerns of relatives and patients remains to be seen.
A better model would be a judge or QC-led inquiry - similar to the Sir Desmond de Silva review and report into the murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane. While the Finucane family continue to press for a public inquiry, the de Silva report was exhaustive yet delivered in a relatively short time at a reasonable cost.
At a time when the NHS is celebrating its 70th anniversary, allegations like those at Muckamore, the damning report into the Dunmurry Manor care home and the hyponatraemia report in January, which found four of the deaths were avoidable, cast a shadow over the sterling lifesaving work of so many.