TWO health trusts have expressed “significant concern” to a watchdog in relation to a private residential home for vulnerable adults – some of whom were discharged from Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
It has also emerged that relatives with loved ones living in ‘River House’ in Belfast sought legal advice due to concern over the impact of staff shortages on care standards – and after learning its manager travels by plane on a weekly basis between England and Northern Ireland at a time of stringent coronavirus restrictions.
The Priory Group, which owns the home, insisted the manager – who is employed for three and a half days a week – is working within government guidelines “as a key worker” and “following all PPE and social distancing procedures”, receiving at least weekly Covid-19 testing.
“We have stringent plans in place for his travel arrangements, the details of which have been shared with the RQIA who were satisfied that these were safe,” it said.
“He is supported by a local deputy manager and by local staff, who encourage our residents and their families to discuss any issues they may have with us.”
It added that the impact of the pandemic meant it had failed to recruit a manager locally and it took its “duty of care, and the trust placed in us by residents and their families, extremely seriously”.
Correspondence seen by The Irish News reveals that a ‘Serious Concerns’ meeting took place last month between the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), the Belfast Trust, South Eastern Trust and Priory Group.
Both trusts have placed patients in the eight-bedded facility, which cares for adults with learning disabilities, some of which are complex and require specialist support.
A senior trust manager wrote: “The trusts have stressed significant concern to RQIA regarding the current management structure at River House and in particular the lack of management presence on-site…”.
A request was made that “regulatory action is taken”.
The mother of one resident said that while most of the staff are excellent, she believed shortages at managerial level had impacted on standards.
Catherine Fox said her daughter was a former patient of the scandal-hit Muckamore Abbey Hospital – where she was subjected to “inappropriate seclusion” in a room “like a jail” – and was discharged to River House three years ago.
The young woman also suffers from severe epilepsy and has a brain tumour and kidney tumour. She was shielding during lockdown.
“I was very happy with her care at first but I became aware of a number of problems that led to her escaping from her room. She was unable to get important blood tests at one point,” Mrs Fox said.
“I had grave concerns and during Covid it became worse as I couldn’t visit for four months. When I found out the new manager was travelling back and forth from England I was worried about her becoming ill. We are constantly told we need to mitigate against risk.”
Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law is representing three families with “ongoing concerns”.
“Their concerns have not been assuaged in any way and families,” Ms McKeegan said.
“Adults with learning difficulties are entitled to a full and enriching life. This is not happening.”
Last October the RQIA carried out an unannounced inspection at River House and issued two notices after failings were discovered in relation to “management, leadership and governance arrangements”.
During a follow-up inspection, the regulator noted improvements were made.
When asked about last month’s meeting and if further action is required, a RQIA spokesman said it was working with working with families, residents and the South Eastern and Belfast Trusts to “actively respond to the issues that have arisen”.
“We have also had ongoing discussion with senior management from Priory to resolve these issues, and in relation to management arrangements at the home.”
A spokeswoman for the South Eastern Trust said it and the Belfast trust had sought assurances from the Priory Group about improving the “management structure”.
“The trust has discussed these issues with RQIA and will continue to review the situation with the provider,” she said.
— to www.irishnews.com