Muckamore Abbey Hospital, which is at the centre of a long-running investigation into reports of patient abuse by staff, is to close in June 2024, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has announced.
The decision to close the hospital in County Antrim has come following a public consultation on the hospital’s future.
Muckamore Abbey Hospital, run by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, provides inpatient assessment and treatment facilities for adults with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs.
However, it has been the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation and separate public inquiry into allegations of abuse of patients by staff members, including registered nurses.
“The model of care represented by Muckamore Abbey Hospital is outdated and not fit for purpose”
Earlier this month, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland set a target date for the site to be closed in June 2024.
The department said this date will be dependent on whether all remaining Muckamore patients have been appropriately resettled in community settings.
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.”
The decision follows the results of a public consultation on the hospital’s future, which was launched by Northern Ireland’s former health minister Robin Swann in October 2022.
Of those who responded to the consultation, 56 respondents (48%) agreed with the proposal to close Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
Meanwhile 43 (37%) said they did not agree, and 18 (15%) did not provide a clear answer or did not answer at all.
Mr May added: “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.”
Since 2017 there have been many allegations of serious abuse and neglect taking place at the hospital from staff, including nurses.
A review published in 2018, commissioned by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, found catastrophic failings at the hospital and that there was a culture of tolerating harm.
Following this, the police examined allegations of patient abuse at the hospital and last month a 38th arrest was made as part of their investigation.
Meanwhile a separate public inquiry is ongoing, which aims to examine the issue of abuse of patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital and to determine why it happened and the circumstances that allowed it to happen.
The announcement of a target date for the closure of the hospital will not affect the criminal investigation nor the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry, said the Department of Health.
Mr May said he believed that the closure of the hospital was “in the public interest and will help expedite resettlement, which has been a long-standing policy objective”.
He said: “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.”
Additionally, Mr May added 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,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust welcomed the outcome of the consultation.
In a statement the trust said: “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.
“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.”