Muckamore Abbey: NIO accused of ‘disinterest’ in abuse scandal

Muckamore Abbey Hospital is at the centre of a criminal investigation into abuse
Muckamore Abbey Hospital is at the centre of a criminal investigation into abuse

A DUP MP has accused Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley of “disinterest” in a “scandalous” crisis at a Northern Ireland hospital.

Muckamore Abbey in Co Antrim, a facility for patients with severe learning and mental disabilities, is currently subject to a major criminal investigation into the alleged abuse of patients by staff.

There have been calls for a full public inquiry into the alleged abuse from patients’ families and politicians from both the DUP and Sinn Fein, as well as parties such as the SDLP.

Now, private correspondence between health bosses, published in the Irish News, reveals the “considerable alarm” felt by senior officials at the Department of Health over the Belfast Trust’s delay in alerting them to the abuse scandal.

In a letter, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Northern Ireland’s chief social worker Sean Holland and chief nursing officer Charlotte McArdle express “growing concern” that the trust raised the alarm “only after the department had been prompted to make inquiries” when a politician acting on behalf of a patient’s parent got in touch.

The politician in question was DUP MP Gavin Robinson, who has since written to the Northern Ireland secretary urging her to consider ordering a full public inquiry into the alleged abuse of patients at the hospital.

But the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has appeared to rule out the ordering of a public inquiry, saying: “Health is a devolved matter.”

Responding, Mr Robinson said: “I am sure the NIO have noticed that we haven’t got an Executive. Therefore we don’t have a minister locally capable of making the decision under the Inquiries Act. The only person with locus is the secretary of state.

“I think it’s hugely regrettable but it follows a long track of disinterest in serious issues affecting people in Northern Ireland. There’s a clear need for political accountability and ministerial interest in what is a most scandalous situation.”

Referring to the confidential letter published by the Irish News, Mr Robinson said: “That reaffirms the view that I have held previously, that the trust adopted a position of ‘nothing to see here, move on’. But for (the intervention of) departmental officials we wouldn’t have got to the bottom of it. When there’s a clear disparity between the position of the trust and the department, if it takes a public inquiry to shine light on the darkness then there should be one.”

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office said: “The findings of the report into Muckamore Abbey Hospital are truly shocking and deeply concerning. Given the extremely serious nature of this issue, the secretary of state has asked officials to engage closely with the NI Department of Health.

“Health is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland.

“ Any decision on establishing a public inquiry should only be taken by a Northern Ireland Executive, with any subsequent findings and recommendations to be considered fully and taken forward by Northern Ireland ministers.”