I feared for lives of patients, says care home whistleblower

A former senior staff member at a Belfast care home has claimed patient neglect, dirty sinks and basic hygiene issues caused her to speak out after she feared patients’ lives were at risk.

The Owenvale Court Residential Home owned by Helm Housing was managed by St John of God Association.

It has stepped aside after intervention from the Belfast Trust and Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).

Concerns over patient care were raised by a former deputy manager who claimed that when she returned from holiday she checked patients’ notes and found at times they had not received medication such as sleeping tablets.

The whistleblowing former senior member of staff claimed rotten food, fungus in sinks and patient neglect led her to notify the RQIA.

The care home, based on the Springfield Road provides care facilities for 47 residents.

The RQIA had raised concerns about patient safety dating back to last year. They became more prevalent after the death of Kathleen Fegan (81) last month. She died after suffering burns when a fire broke out in her bathroom in Owenvale Court on April 11.

In April RQIA issued a notice to cancel the registration of the St John of God Association and detailed concerns about care at the home. These included the quality of care delivery, management of medicines, safeguarding vulnerable adults, risk management, staff levels, competence and training, record keeping, statutory notification and management.

Statutory notification refers to any changes of care or incidents that take place within a care facility such as Owenvale Court.

After these findings RQIA issued a series of notices of failure to comply with residential care home regulations, and ceased new admissions to Owenvale.

Greg Lomax, Interim Chief Executive of Helm Housing, said it

was his understanding the RQIA expressed a decision that St John of God would de-register before a formal de-registration decision.

In a statement, St John of God association said it had experienced difficulties in recruiting senior staff.

“Reluctantly we have come to the decision that another provider, larger than our own organisation in Northern Ireland, would be better placed to provide the necessary management,” it said.

Mr Lomax said Helm Housing would make a decision in the next two weeks on new management.

He added:. “We will keep Owenvale open and the residents will continue to live there in safety and peace. We will find some provider or in the extremity we will cover it.

“The same domiciliary staff will continue to work in Owenvale and there will be a new management team. We will guarantee the residents will continue to live there. Our responsibility as the landlord is ultimately that the residents can live in safety.”

Belfast Trust said patient safety and the continuation of care to the highest possible standards during the transition were its priorities. It stated: “We have received notification from RQIA of the intention to de-register St John of God as providers of residential care in Owenvale Court.

“St John of God has subsequently indicated their intention to voluntarily transfer their residential home to another care provider.”


St John of God Association is a worldwide Catholic organisation which delivers healthcare and social services in almost 50 countries. It is a registered charity and operates as a voluntary organisation. Each service component of the association is subject to the scrutiny of independent agency the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA). RQIA seeks to inform and improve health and social care.