No criminal probe in care home residents' deaths after transfer out of Tyrone care home

Loved ones of former residents of the Valley Nursing Home in Clogher, have contacted the PSNI about concerns over the mortality rate of those moved from the now closed facility. Credit: Google maps

By Tanya Fowles, Local Democracy Reporter

The PSNI has said there is no current criminal investigation into the high mortality rate of residents who were transferred out of a Northern Ireland care home following its closure.

However, they are considering a new report made to them and have asked for further information to determine what course of action to take.

Relatives of those residents who died in the immediate aftermath of being transferred from the Valley Nursing Home in Clogher following its closure brought their concerns to the attention of the PSNI.

A meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council this week heard how 20 residents died after closure of the home which was, it was claimed, "three times the mortality rate" of the home in the 18 months preceding the decision to close.

A report has been made to police and they have asked for further information. Depending on that outcome that they will determine if any further investigation is needed.

A previous report was made to the PSNI in March 2019."Detectives from Serious Crime Department have reviewed all available information and there is no criminal investigation at this time," a statement to UTV on Wednesday afternoon said.The Co Tyrone home was branded the worst care home in Northern Ireland. It was forced to close in January 2021 with 53 residents transferred to other facilities. At that time both residents and families told UTV they didn't want the closure to go ahead.

It confirmed at that time that soon after the home closed 14 residents died.

Following an inspection in October 2020 the health watchdog the RQIA identified what it described as serious concerns in relation to the safety and effectiveness of resident care and it was ordered to close. The health minister said those that died had pre-existing conditions and there was no evidence their deaths were connected to their transfer out of the facility.

At the time, a member of staff told UTV those that worked there believe the care home should never have been shut and that put lives at risk.

Families have called for an investigation to determine the facts surrounding what happened while their loved ones were at the home.

The disclosure came at a Fermanagh and Omagh Council meeting as members discussed a response from Robin Swann, while he was health minister, to a motion calling for a public inquiry and rejecting the content of a 'Lessons Learned Review' report.

The content of the complaints, which have been seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, set out serious issues involving multiple public authorities amid desperate efforts to be provided with critical information.

Brought by Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh, CCLA, and seconded by Councillor Josephine Deehan, Independent, the motion deemed the report “inadequate, self-serving and failing to address the critical matter of residents’ deaths in the immediate aftermath of transfer, despite being of major concern to relatives and the principle reasoning for seeking the review”.

The motion also noted “the refusal of the Department of Health to provide the Terms of Reference for the review” and condemned the failure of all relevant authorities to address very specific issues.

In light of these repeated refusals “which relatives are fully entitled to be furnished with and would cost absolutely nothing”, the council gave unqualified support for an independent public inquiry to extract answers from the government authorities involved, “to obtain truth, accountability and where necessary, justice”.

In his brief reply, the minister said he remained satisfied with the assurances of Health Trusts, adding: “There is no record that any resident passed away as a direct consequence of this process.”

The response led Councillor O’Cofaigh to express “dissatisfaction, as it takes us no further forward”.

He continued: “When everything is boiled away, this was a nursing home with 53 residents. Within a short period of [its] closure, 20 of those residents had died, many of whom were residents of this council area.

“That’s three times the mortality rate in the home for the 18 months preceding the decision to close.

“All we have had are assertions of satisfaction without any evidential assessment, and no coroner’s investigation. That is not in any way acceptable.”

He added: “I have been informed by family members that this has now been brought to the attention of police, and at this stage the council cannot really say much more as this may become an investigation.”

Councillor Josephine Deehan, Independent, was also disappointed by Minister Swann’s response, which she said “indicates he’s satisfied by assurances that every necessary step was taken around the transition process”.

She continued: “But it doesn’t explain the excessive deaths in what was a very vulnerable population … The response is inadequate and doesn’t reassure me in the least.

“Relatives whose loved ones died have contacted me, puzzled, shocked, horrified and demanding answers.

“It’s sad relatives have to go to police to find the answers they are entitled to.”

She was, however, pleased the minister has assured lessons have been learned and relatives can continue to engage with the Health Trusts, which she said “is something positive, but I feel as a council we owe it to our elderly residents and their families to ensure every protection and every consideration is given”.

In a statement, the Department of Health added: "Closure of a care home is always a last resort.

"However, when the regulator reaches a decision to deregister a care home provider, it does so to protect the safety and well-being of residents. The reasons for closure of the Valley Nursing Home have been clearly set out in RQIA’s reports. The department has received assurances from the Trusts involved that every necessary step was taken during the transition process and thereafter to ensure the residents were settled within their new homes.

"There is also no record that any resident passed away as a direct consequence of this process."

The statement continued: "The review carried out was to ensure lessons learned from the closure of this home are taken on board in planning for similar situations in the future. Each Trust remains completely open to discussing directly with individual families any concerns they may have in relation to the care provided to their relatives either in the past or in their new homes."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.