Northern Ireland

Muckamore Abbey Hospital: 39 patients still in hospital

A sign outside Muckamore Abbey Hospital
Image caption The County Antrim hospital is at the centre of a police investigation

Thirty-nine patients in Muckamore Abbey Hospital who should have been discharged will have to stay as there are no suitable places for them in the community, BBC News NI can reveal.

In January, the permanent health secretary said no one should call the hospital home "when there are better options for their care".

Thirty patients have been discharged.

The County Antrim hospital is at the centre of a police investigation into allegations that staff abused patients.

Richard Pengelly said he expected the resettlement process to be completed by the end of the year.

That has not happened and many men and women will continue to live in a hospital environment despite assessments that say under the right circumstances they could live in the community.

In a statement to the BBC, the Department of Health said that as of 31 October there were 39 patients in Muckamore Abbey Hospital who should be living in the community.

Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan said it was very disappointing.

"This time last year the permanent secretary told us that they had a plan in place to ensure that no patient would ever have to call Muckamore their home within one year," he said.

"That year is up. No plan has been published and having spoken to experts within the sector, they said at the time that plan was a fantasy.

"It was more about spin than any serious proposal to make sure that these patients were resettled in the community."

Muckamore improvements

Earlier on Friday, Northern Ireland's health regulator said "significant improvements" have been made at the hospital.

The improvements were see during an unannounced inspection.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) said the improvements included physical checks on every patient and extra support for staff.

But it found outstanding issues with financial governance and safeguarding.

The County Antrim hospital is at the centre of a police investigation into allegations that staff abused patients.

Muckamore Abbey Hospital provides treatment for people with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs.

Police investigating the abuse are continuing to examine thousands of hours of CCTV footage from Muckamore and have already identified 1,500 crimes on one ward alone.

About 40 staff have been suspended by health trusts during the investigation and four people have been arrested and released on bail pending further inquiries.

The latest RQIA report was the first piece of positive news about Muckamore in two years.

Following a three-day and overnight inspection, its regulators said they had found considerable improvements which are contributing positively to the care of patients.

'Welcoming atmosphere'

Dr Lourda Geoghegan, RQIA's medical director and director of improvement said "we are pleased to report significant improvement at the hospital in addressing the concerns highlighted in our enforcement notices issued in August.

"As a result of this very welcome progress, RQIA has lifted all elements of its improvements notice relating to staffing.

"We have seen an open and welcoming atmosphere, with staff feeling supported and listened to a part of the improvement."

Image caption Dr Lourda Geoghegan said Muckamore had addressed some of the RQIA's previous concerns

The improvements include more staffing - however these additional nurses have been removed from other health trusts in order to ensure Muckamore's wards are properly staffed.

The report also said that patients are in a much brighter and more positive environment and all have recently received a physical health care review.

Earlier this year, a number of enforcement notices were placed on the hospital - some still remain around financial governance of patients and one issue remains outstanding relating to safeguarding.

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