Department of Health sets closure date for Muckamore Abbey Hospital as June next year

The Department of Health has announced the scandal-hit Muckamore Abbey Hospital is to close in June 2024.

An inquiry is examining allegations of abuse of vulnerable patients at the Co Antrim facility which is run by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

Muckamore Abbey is a hospital for adults with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs.

A review found "catastrophic" failings at the facility.

In 2017, a lengthy police investigation examined claims of patient abuse over a number of years. Police said CCTV footage revealed 1,500 crimes on one ward.

Police have arrested scores of people with eight charged.

By May 2022, following review of CCTV footage, 83 members of staff had been placed on precautionary suspension, and a further 68 placed on a form of supervision and training.

The closure date announed depends on remaining Muckamore patients having been appropriately resettled in community settings.

The closure follows a public consultation on the hospital’s future and is in line with the direction set out by previous Health Minister Robin Swann.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Peter May said: “The June 2024 date should provide sufficient time for remaining patients to be discharged into the community.

"This is an overriding priority and the Department is working with all Trusts to develop safe discharge arrangements for all patients by this date.

“I can give a firm commitment that the closure will be a carefully managed and phased process. A detailed closure plan will be developed, co-produced by patients and families.

"It will clearly set out how the services currently provided on the Muckamore site will be delivered in agreed alternative settings.”

The Permanent Secretary continued: “I believe closure is in the public interest and will help expedite resettlement, which has been a long-standing policy objective.

“The model of care represented by Muckamore Abbey Hospital is outdated and not fit for purpose. Living in the community, as part of that local community, is a much better alternative for people with learning disabilities.

“It is also the case that services at Muckamore remain very fragile. The proportion of agency nursing staff working on the site remains high, which continues to represent a vulnerability for both the safety and the sustainability of services.”

Mr May added: “I am content that my decision is in accordance with Northern Ireland Executive Formation legislation and the associated Guidance published by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.”

The Belfast Health Trust welcomed announcement.

“Closure of this large hospital site is in line with the Trust’s vision for a Learning Disability service embedded in the community that supports individuals to lead full and rewarding lives,” the Trust said in a statement.

“We understand that a small number of our patients have lived on the Muckamore site for many years. To them, and their families, the hospital has become a home and today’s announcement might lead to uncertainty and anxiety.

“We are fully committed to supporting those patients and families as they move to new homes in the community and will do our utmost to ensure that the transition is as seamless as possible.”

The public consultation on the hospital’s future was announced by Minister Swann on 24 October 2022 in a written Assembly statement.

The statement emphasised the benefits of “signalling a clear intention to close the hospital”.

In addition, 51 (44%) of respondents agreed that the proposed closure of Muckamore Abbey Hospital (MAH) is consistent with the overall policy aim of improving services for people with a Learning Disability in Northern Ireland.

41 (35%) disagreed, and 25 (21%) did not provide a clear yes or no, or did not answer.

The setting of a date for closure will have no bearing on the criminal investigation in relation to the hospital or the work of the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry, the Department of Health said.

These will both continue according to their planned schedules.

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