DoH Secretary Issues Apology To Muckamore Families

The Department of Health (DoH) Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly has apologised to the families of Muckamore Abbey Hospital patients at a meeting with them at the Co Antrim facility on Monday 17 December.

It follows revelations from historical CCTV footage and a report by the Belfast Trust that made serious criticisms of the treatment of vulnerable adult patients.

At the meeting, Mr Pengelly also made a series of firm commitments to the families, in regards future care provision. He was accompanied by Chief Social Worker Sean Holland and Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle.

Commenting after the meeting, he said: "It was important to me to apologise to families face-to-face for what happened to their loved ones while in the care of Muckamore Abbey Hospital. I am both appalled and angered that vulnerable people were let down.

"At the same time, action is urgently needed by the HSC system as a whole in response to the recommendations of the Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) review.

"I fully endorse the view of the SAI panel that no one should have to call Muckamore their home in future, when there are better options for their care. I am now confirming to the families that this will be the case.

"That means Muckamore returns to being a hospital providing acute care, and not simply a residential facility.

"To make that happen will require investment in both specialised accommodation and staff training to meet the complex needs of people who no longer need to be in hospital."

Mr Pengelly said he expects the resettlement process to be completed by the end of 2019. That means finding suitable alternative accommodation for patients who have been living at Muckamore on a long-term basis, despite not requiring in-patient hospital care.

The separate issue of delayed discharge will also be addressed as a top priority, with the HSC system tasked to provide an action plan to the Permanent Secretary in January. Delayed discharges involve patients staying longer than medically required due to difficulties securing appropriate alternative arrangements.

The Permanent Secretary added: "I fully recognise that the December 2019 deadline for the resettlement process will be challenging, but the Department owes it to patients and their families to be demanding.

"I also know that, while this report has highlighted appalling behaviours that fell well short of what is acceptable, there are many working in the HSC who work tirelessly to deliver high quality and safe services to families and people with learning disabilies, and will rise to this challenge.
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"We have seen this as recently as this weekend in the actions of those staff who have provided much needed support and flexibility to ensure the safe and effective care of our most vulnerable patients in Muckamore. It is important in the midst of this not to overlook the dedicated and compassionate care that families have also experienced.

"I will be holding the HSC system to account and closely monitoring progress."

Alliance spokesperson for health, Paula Bradshaw MLA welcomed the direct apology but noted that without any input from Northern Ireland's largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, there can be no adequate answer to the families' appeal for a statutory inquiry.

The South Belfast MLA stated: "The efforts being made by the Department to reassure the families and take action for the future are to be welcome. It is right for challenging targets to be set to ensure that patients are in the right location for their needs.

"However, the ultimate objective of a full public inquiry cannot be met without a Minister in place. We have already seen the independent neurology inquiry having to proceed with inquisitorial rather than statutory powers, and what would be clearly preferable in the case of Muckamore would be a full statutory inquiry.

"Yet again, we find innocent people are the victims of political failure. The DUP and Sinn Fein received the biggest mandates but are making no efforts whatsoever to put a government in place; they were also the two parties who held the Health portfolio since 2011. What is required now is an explanation from those two parties as to why they refuse to fulfil their responsibilities on the issues which directly affect people so seriously, such as why resolution in the case of Muckamore is being carried out by a Department hamstrung by the lack of statutory and legislative capacity."

During the meeting, Mr Pengelly also directly addressed the call for a public inquiry.

He said: "I want to take this opportunity to reassure the families that I have not ruled out any options regarding further scrutiny of the serious failings at Muckamore.

"Active investigations into wrongdoing are ongoing by both the PSNI and the Belfast Trust as employer. The ongoing police investigation clearly takes primacy over any other process at present.

"The HSC system will continue to cooperate fully with the PSNI inquiry while also rigorously pursuing its own disciplinary procedures."

Mr Pengelly also updated the families on plans for a new model of acute care for people with learning disabilities through the transformation agenda, saying: "This work will now be prioritised as part of a wider project already initiated to transform learning disability services, and will take account of the findings of the SAI report which states very clearly that the current model is not working. We need urgently to find pragmatic solutions to the issues laid out in stark terms in this report."


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