Community Care Cannot Replace Muckamore – Parents And Friends

THE HUMAN rights of 150 vulnerable, severely disabled patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital must not be compromised by government proposals to resettle them into community care.

That was just one of the concerns of The Society of Parents and Friends of Muckamore Abbey put to members of The Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee (HSSPSC) when they visited the hospital on Thursday of last week.

In a four-page hand-out distributed amongst members of the Committee, the Society state simply: “The quality of life currently enjoyed by the severely handicapped long-stay patients living there cannot be bettered in the community as, realistically, Muckamore cannot be replicated”.

For decades, Muckamore Abbey Hospital has provided a regional specialist assessment and treatment service for people with learning disabilities and helps to support others living in the community.

However, Government policy in recent decades has sought to promote the inclusion of people with a learning disability in the normal life of the community and this has been supported by Equal Lives – the learning disability report produced by the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability Services, which is currently out to consultation.

That report supports the resettlement of patients to appropriate placements in the community and favours the development of a smaller regional centre providing specialist inpatient assessment and treatment services in support of people living in the community.

The Society of Parents and Friends state in their documentation that such resettlement of patients at the hospital, some of whom have been there for up to half a century, is simply not feasible.

“If it was thought possible that they (the patients) could integrate into a community then their families, would, in many cases, care for them at home,” the Society stated.

“However, reaslistically, we all realise that this is not possible, hence our opposition to community care.

“It has taken Muckamore many years to evolve into an environment which, although not perfect, has, under difficult circumstances provided a safe, friendly home for many people for a long time and a place that most patients, supported by their families would wish to remain”.

After listening to their views, however, chairwoman of the HSSPSC Committee, Iris Robinson MP, called on the Health Minister to progress the findings of Bamford.

She stated: “The Minister has stated his commitment to the Bamford Review and the resettlement agenda.

“However, a significant number of people with learning disabilities are still housed in hospital accommodation and we are calling on the Minister to ensure that commitments he has made to them are not reneged upon because of funding pressures.

“The Committee recognises that one size does not fit all and there are some severely disabled patients in the hospital and their transfer into community care can only take place with full consultation with the patients and their families and when there is adequate support in place,” she added.

South Antrim DUP MLA William McCrea, who last week led a delegation from the Society of parents & Friends of Muckamore Abbey to meet with the Health Minister at Stormont, said, however, that to implement the Bamford Report in its present form will have “a tremendous knock on effect for many long stay patients.

Mr McCrea said: “It must be borne in mind that Muckamore Abbey has been the home to some of these patients for as many as 30 years, and that their families have had the comfort of knowing that their loved ones are in a safe and caring environment where they have ready access to excellent hospital facilities including first class medical treatment and nursing care.

“In meeting with the Minister, the Society was seeking to ensure that the resettlement of long stay patients is not mandatory but optional, and I believe the betterment criteria promised by the report must be given paramount consideration.

“I do not believe that any person should be kept in Muckamore Abbey beyond the proper period of care, however, I register my deep concern that for many patients it will be nigh impossible to replicate such a high standard of care provision within a community setting where services are divorced and often under resourced.”