Northern Ireland

Omagh care home: Elderly man restrained in care home chair

Seamus Gormley and family
Image caption Mr Gormley's family has criticised regulatory body RQIA

The family of an 86-year-old man who was restrained in a chair in a care home have spoken out about his ordeal.

Seamus Gormley became a resident of Drumragh Care Home, Omagh, in 2014 following health complications.

In November, a care assistant who was employed at the care home, was found guilty of assault - a verdict they are appealing. The home has since closed.

The former owners of the care home said they co-operated fully with the investigation.

Appeal lodged

In July 2015, Mr Gormley, who has dementia, was restrained in a chair by the care assistant. His family were informed three days after the incident.

Last month at Omagh Magistrates court, Catrina Tummons from Lisnaragh Road, Dunamanagh, was found guilty of assault and ill-treatment of a patient.

A lawyer for the convicted woman says an appeal has been lodged, and disputes that any marks on the victim were attributable to the defendant. The only restraint used, says the lawyer, was a restraint mechanism in accordance with guidelines.

Mr Gormley's family have also hit out at the regulatory body, the RQIA (Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority), for not intervening quickly enough.

The RQIA said the incident was reported to the police, HSC (Health and Social Care) Trust and the patient's family by the home.

"While RQIA does not conduct a separate investigation, it is kept advised of any actions arising from this process," it said.

In a statement, Drumragh owner, the Four Seasons Care Group, said the former care home and wider company managers co-operated actively and fully with the investigation.

"We immediately suspended a care assistant and an agency nurse and the company itself triggered the investigation," it said.

"We also reported the care worker to the Northern Ireland Social Care Council and reported the nurse to the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The authorities are satisfied that we took all appropriate measures."

But Mr Gormley's relatives said they felt let down by people they trusted and that the incident had traumatised the entire family.

"Mummy trusted these people to look after her husband and they let her down badly," said his daughter, Brenda Sweeney. "Never did she think that daddy would be abused.

"It has just been a total and utter nightmare."

Brenda Sweeney described the RQIA's response as "lacking".

"They should have stepped in much much earlier," she said. "They should have been with us every step of the way - we were at meetings, they weren't represented."

The Western Health and Social Care Trust said it did not comment on individual cases.

Whistle-blower 'ignored'

But a whistle-blower has criticised how the Drumragh home was run and said staff did not have the equipment to do their jobs.

"90% of the time you mightn't have the right sling for the right hoist," the whistle-blower told the BBC.

"You would just have to make do. Incontinence pads were rationed to an extent where you were running them under a tap so you didn't have to put them back on a resident because your manager was checking if they were wet enough to be thrown away.

"We had dirty sheets, threadbare towels, towels cut into face cloths, that is what you were expected to work with.

"At least five times, I contacted RQIA. I got through to the head office.

"I told them what my concerns were and they said they would follow it up.

"They never came, they never rang."

Image caption The home has closed since the incident

The RQIA responded that during 2014-15 it was contacted on a number of occasions by anonymous whistle-blowers in relation to Drumragh Care Home.

"In each case RQIA fully assessed the information provided, and followed up the concerns through its regulatory activities including unannounced inspection," it said.

The Four Seasons Group said it had an active whistle-blowing policy.

"We have in place rigorous policies, processes and procedures across all our homes to support good care, but we are a people business and ultimately we are dependent on individual members of the front line staff in our homes," said a spokesperson.

In a further statement to the BBC a spokesperson for the RQIA said that on two occasions the person reporting the concerns identified themselves as a whistleblower, but chose to remain anonymous.

In each case, the allegations were followed up thoroughly by RQIA including through unannounced inspection, meetings to discuss the concerns with the management of Four Seasons Health Care, and assurances were sought from the service provider on required actions.

As those raising the concerns remained anonymous and did not provide contact details, RQIA was unable to respond, or ring the anonymous whistle-blower.

The RQIA also said that it did make both announced and unannounced inspections. And it also said that it strongly refutes the allegation that RQIA inspectors were "pally" with the manager of this service.