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Patients to be put at centre of Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry, says chairman

admin | June 6, 2022

Patients will be at the centre of proceedings in an inquiry into allegations of abuse at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, the inquiry chairman has stated. Tom Kark, chairman of the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry, said it is clear already that “bad practices were allowed to persist at the hospital to the terrible detriment of a number of patients”. The inquiry is examining allegations of abuse of patients at the facility in Co Antrim. Muckamore Abbey, a hospital for adults with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs, has been at the centre of the UK’s largest ever police investigation into the alleged abuse of vulnerable adults. The Muckamore Abbey Hospital health facility in Abbey Road, Muckamore, Co Antrim. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA A number of people are to be prosecuted in the probe. Mr Kark, who previously played a key role in the 2010 inquiry into avoidable deaths at Stafford Hospital, said the inquiry has agreed a memorandum of understanding with police and the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland to proceed without impacting the criminal investigation. He described the inquiry as being of great importance to many people. He also said it is important to the wider mental health and learning disability services, which he said, need to learn from its mistakes. He said: “The treatment and care of those with learning disabilities or with mental illness, who are by their nature vulnerable, should be of a high quality and safe in any civilised society,” he told the inquiry. Dawn Jones outside the Corn Exchange, Cathedral Quarter in Belfast, holding an image of her son Timothy, who was a patient at Muckamore Abbey Hospital. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA “And to abuse those people receiving such care is an anathema to any competent and caring health professional. It brings the medical, nursing and care professions into disrepute and it makes people fearful of committing their loved ones to the care of others who should be able to care for them safely and with compassion.” He said what happened at Muckamore Abbey Hospital “has been referred to as a scandal”, adding: “Without predetermining any issue, it is quite obvious that bad practices were allowed to persist at the hospital to the terrible detriment of a number of patients”. “Those patients themselves were all without exception highly vulnerable in different ways and so it is understandable that there is considerable public anger at some of what has already been revealed,” he said. “Relatives and carers who entrusted their loved ones to the hospital to be cared for with compassion have discovered that in many cases, that is not what was happening, and because so many of the patients were either non verbal or had difficulty communicating, they couldn’t express what was happening or they were not regarded as credible. “Many of the parents, relatives and carers who trusted the hospital have been let down, and they are understandably furious, and some feel guilty. I have met through the engagement sessions a number of families and individuals who have expressed their great upset and anger at what they have now discovered was happening when they left their loved relatives at Muckamore.” Mr Kark said the inquiry will scrutinise what was happening at the hospital over many decades. “I regard the patients and their relatives and carers, who have been abused or received poor care, as being at the front and centre of this inquiry,” he said. He said they will start with evidence from relatives of patients, adding: “Not only do we want to put the patients at Muckamore front and centre of this inquiry, we want to put their experience first”. The inquiry will later hear an opening statement from senior counsel to the inquiry, Sean Doran QC. Opening statements from core participants are expected to be heard on Wednesday and Thursday. The inquiry is set to make recommendations to government when it concludes. Mr Kark said he expects the inquiry “will inevitably take some time”, but said if it comes across issues that require urgent and immediate rectification, a short interim report can be written with recommendations. Dr Elaine Maxwell and Professor Glynis Murphy are also on the panel along with Mr Kark. Relatives of patients were among those who attended the inquiry on Monday. Glynn Brown, whose son Aaron had been a patient at the hospital, was among those who attended. Mr Brown, who previously raised the alarm about the facility, said he will be watching to see if the “depth and scale” of what happened will be uncovered, and what will be done about it. Family and supporters of patients of Muckamore Abbey Hospital outside the Corn Exchange in Belfast, as the first day of public hearings in the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry is under way. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Speaking ahead of the first day of public hearings, Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said he trusts the inquiry will provide the answers needed. “As I stated in September 2020 when I announced my intention to establish an inquiry, patients and families need more than apologies,” he said. “They deserve the truth on what has happened and how it was allowed to happen. I trust that this public inquiry will provide the answers that are required.”

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