Written Ministerial Statement

The content of this written ministerial statement is as received at the time from the Minister. It has not been subject to the official reporting (Hansard) process.

The Department of Health - Closure of Muckamore Abbey Hospital

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Published on Wednesday 5 June 2024

Mr Nesbitt (The Minister of Health): I wish to update Members on progress towards the closure of Muckamore Abbey Hospital. 

Following consideration of responses to the public consultation on the previous Minister’s proposals for the future of the hospital, which ran from 24 October 2022 until 24 January 2023, my Department announced on 5 July 2023 that Muckamore Abbey Hospital would close.

A target date of June 2024 was set for closure, though this date is dependent on all the remaining patients successfully transitioning to agreed alternative accommodation placements in the community.

Much work has been done since the announcement of closure was made last year to find suitable community placements for the remaining in-patients. This work is overseen by the Regional Resettlement Oversight Board, chaired by Dr Patricia Donnelly, which continues to meet fortnightly to expedite resettlement of the remaining patients in as timely a fashion as possible. I am grateful to Dr Donnelly and the Oversight Board members for their work in support of the resettlement programme.

However, notwithstanding this progress which has seen thirteen patients successfully resettled since the Oversight Board began its work, the most recent assessment provided to me by the Board makes clear that not all the remaining patients will be successfully resettled in advance of the proposed closure date in June. This means that it will not be feasible for the hospital to close by that date.

I am very aware that as we get closer to the anticipated closure date of June 2024, the lack of clarity about the immediate future of the hospital is heightening levels of anxiety among the remaining patients and their families about the future arrangements for their care, and this uncertainty is also impacting on hospital staff.

This is why I am signalling today a short extension to the proposed June closure date. The safety and well-being of the remaining patients is of paramount importance to me, and I am determined that each of the remaining patients is afforded the necessary time to enable them to successfully transition to their new homes. The resettlement process, particularly for those patients who have spent a considerable part of their lives in Muckamore, can be complex and any attempt to rush this work risks the breakdown of individual community placements, and I know such breakdowns can be a difficult and traumatic experience for patients and their families.

In recognition of this, I have decided that setting a further deadline today for the hospital’s closure is not helpful, but I want to make very clear to members that this does not mean there is any change to the policy position, which remains that no-one should be required to live in a hospital.

I believe that it does not reflect well on us collectively as a society that we have accepted for many years a model of care that has resulted in some of our most vulnerable citizens shut out from the opportunities and freedoms that we all take for granted.  I am determined that delivery of the vision for people with learning disabilities which was articulated twenty years ago by the Bamford Review be finally completed, and the closure of long stay institutions like Muckamore represents a key milestone in delivering that vision.

To this end, planning will continue at pace in relation to establishing resettlement timelines for the remaining patients, and the work being progressed by the Belfast Trust to close the hospital will continue.

The resettlement programme for the remaining patients will continue to be overseen by the Regional Resettlement Oversight Board, and I have tasked the Board with setting out achievable milestones for this. I have also asked that regular progress updates on these are provided to my Department.

As resettlements from the hospital progress, the staffing position at Muckamore is being kept under ongoing review.  As patient numbers reduce, the focus will be on ensuring that services at the hospital can continue to be provided safely, and it will be important to make sure that any contingency arrangements that may be necessary to facilitate this are in place.  The primary purpose of any such arrangements is to ensure the safety and well-being of the remaining patients.  These contingency arrangements are considered at meetings of the Regional Resettlement Oversight Board, and will be discussed with patients and their families should they be required.

I want to reassure members again that the decision to close the hospital will not affect either of the investigative processes currently underway into events at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, and both the criminal investigation and the MAH Public Inquiry will continue according to their planned schedules.

I can also assure members that in parallel with the work to implement the closure of Muckamore, work to transform adult learning disability services continues. My Department is working with all Trusts to develop suitable alternative service provision to ensure that specialist Learning Disability Assessment and Treatment beds, as well as enhanced community preventative services, are available to meet the needs of the learning disabled population. In addition, the work to develop a draft Learning Disability Service Model is nearing completion, and it is planned that the draft Service Model will be subject to public consultation in the coming months.