A group acting on behalf of patients’ families has expressed concern that if Muckamore Abbey Hospital should close there will be nowhere for patients to go.
They issued the warning after the author of a review into “catastrophic failings” at the hospital called for its closure.
Muckamore, a specialist inpatient facility for patients with serious mental health and learning disabilities, is at the centre of a major criminal investigation into allegations that patients were abused by staff.
Police have been poring over thousands of hours of CCTV footage for months. The officer leading the probe, Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie, confirmed in an interview with the Irish News in August that 1,500 individual suspected crimes had been identified in just one six-bed ward.
To date, a total of 33 staff members have been suspended by the Belfast Trust.
Calls have now been made for the hospital to close.
Dr Margaret Flynn, who authored a review of safeguarding at Muckamore that had been commissioned by the Belfast Trust, made the call in an interview with the BBC.
Her review found catastrophic failings and a culture of tolerating harm, but the lobby group for patients’ families, Action For Muckamore, believe the review did not go far enough.
Action for Muckamore spokesman Glynn Brown, whose son is a patient at the hospital, said families are worried about the prospect of closure without alternative arrangements in place.
“Our view would be quite simple — we are against the closure of Muckamore,” he said.
“The problem has not been with the facility itself, it has been with the alleged abuse of patients by a certain amount of staff, the failings in oversight, the failings in governance and all of the catastrophic failings.
“There is a need for a regional facility with qualified nurses to look after the most vulnerable patients.”
Mr Brown said there is also a “fear, in the back of our minds” that if Muckamore should close with no alternative arrangements in place, patients may be required to leave Northern Ireland for treatment.
The Royal College of Nursing’s Northern Ireland director, Pat Cullen, said in a recent interview with the News Letter that it is important to avoid such a scenario with the future of Muckamore in doubt.
“Those people shouldn’t have to avail of those services in another country,” she said.
“It is so important that they can avail of those services close to their families, their relatives and their support networks.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “The best interest of patients and their families will be the paramount consideration.”