Muckamore Abbey Inquiry chair hopes to conclude hearing evidence of patient experience in 2023

Muckamore Abbey Hospital. PA Images.
The chair of the inquiry into Muckamore Credit: PA Images

The chair of the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry said he hopes to complete hearing evidence of patient experience in the new year.

The inquiry is examining allegations of the abuse of vulnerable patients at the Co Antrim facility.

It opened public sittings in June but did not complete hearing this first phase of evidence, relating to the patient experience, in 2022 as planned.

Inquiry chair Tom Kark KC described an important and productive year which included opening statements from the core participants, the viewing of CCTV footage (in closed sessions) and hearing evidence from 42 witnesses.

In an end of year statement, Mr Kark thanked witnesses who have given evidence so far, acknowledging their "deeply personal and sensitive accounts", adding: "Their contribution to the work of the Inquiry cannot be overstated.

"The inquiry hoped to complete the hearing of this first phase of evidence, relating to the patient experience, in this calendar year. This was not possible," he said.

Disagreement emerged in November when several relatives of patients asked to make their formal statements to their own solicitor rather than to a law firm appointed by the inquiry.

But this request was refused, with Mr Kark saying the process must be independent.

In his end of year statement, Mr Kark said he has since met directly with leading members of Action for Muckamore at their request "to explain my approach and to try to resolve any concerns they may have".

"As outlined in my statement, I have done what I can to deal with their concerns and have allowed for significant changes to the Inquiry's statement taking procedure to try to accommodate them," he said.

"I hope very much that we will be able to receive their evidence, which I know they want to give and we want to hear.

"The Inquiry must however move forward, even though some of the patient experience evidence remains outstanding and we have altered the order of evidence to ensure progress."

The inquiry is set to resume hearings from March, running to May 2023.

The next modules will include examining mental health law in Northern Ireland, healthcare structures and governance, health and social care policies, leadership education, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority, and previous significant reports on Muckamore.

Mr Kark said by the end of this period of evidence he hopes to start hearing the remaining evidence relating to the patient experience.

"For that to happen I ask once again for cooperation from all those individuals who are affiliated to Action for Muckamore and the Society of Parents and Friends of Muckamore so that the statement taking process can begin as soon as possible within the framework that has now been set down to facilitate them," he added.

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