A union representing nurses who work at a scandal-hit hospital in Co Antrim has come out in support of a public inquiry into the handling of abuse allegations at the facility.
Muckamore Abbey Hospital, a facility for patients with serious learning disabilities and mental health issues, is at the centre of a major criminal investigation into allegations patients were abused by staff members.
There has been serious criticism of health authorities’ handling of the allegations and family members have been campaigning for a full public inquiry.
The Royal College of Nursing, a professional body representing many of the nurses who work at Muckamore, including a number of those staff members who have been placed on precautionary suspension by the Belfast Trust in light of the police investigation, has now given its full support to the calls for a public inquiry.
Speaking to the News Letter, the nursing union’s Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said the Royal College had initially called for an independent inquiry but has now moved to support families’ calls for a full public inquiry with more substantial legal powers.
That change has come following concerns raised by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) about staffing levels last month, and recent revelations about the scale of the police investigation.
The officer leading the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie, recently revealed that a staggering 1,500 crimes had been uncovered by officers examining CCTV footage froma single six-bed unit at Muckamore Abbey Hospital over a six-month period.
“We have a very strong position on this,” Ms Cullen said.
“Some time ago we wrote, as a college, to the permanent secretary (at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly) and in that letter we called for an independent inquiry.
“Since the outcome of the RQIA improvement notices and the level of criminal investigation that we have been made aware of through the media, we believe now that there is an absolute need for a public inquiry.”
She added: “In fact, we will make that a matter of public record with the permanent secretary.”
Each of Northern Ireland’s main political parties has also expressed support for a public inquiry in writing to the permanent secretary at the Department of Health.
DUP MP Gavin Robinson, meanwhile, has been pushing for the Northern Ireland secretary to order an inquiry. He has raised the need for such an inquiry with Secretary of State Julian Smith.
The Department of Health at Stormont has yet to rule out ordering a public inquiry into the abuse scandal at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, but stressed that this is a “decision for a minister to take”.
At the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, in January, Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said the “time to answer that question” about an inquiry would be after the police investigation.