Nurse endured injuries and rape threats at controversial hospital
Christine Keenan has told of multiple attacks by patients during an inquiry into mistreatment of people with learning disabilities at Muckamore Abbey Hospital
A retired nurse has claimed she was injured ‘hundreds of times’ while working at a learning disability hospital, including having a fire extinguisher thrown at her by a patient, an inquiry has heard.
Muckamore hospital inquiry is investigating allegations of patient abuse
Giving evidence on 13 November at an independent public inquiry into Muckamore Abbey Hospital (MAH), run by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Christine Keenan said she received rape threats while working at the trust and at one point was told she was the most injured worker in the trust’s area.
The inquiry was set up in 2021 to investigate allegations of patient abuse by staff at the hospital, which is in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The hospital is also the subject of a long-running criminal investigation, which launched in 2017 after mistreatment allegations began to surface.
It is the biggest investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland’s history. As of June, some 38 people had been arrested in connection to the investigation, according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Stormont’s Department of Health announced in July that MAH is likely to close in June 2024.
Serious attack left nurse with panic attacks
The public inquiry last week began hearing evidence of staff experience at the hospital and is calling on current and former staff to give evidence.
Ms Keenan, a former behavioural nurse therapist at MAH, told the inquiry that while she had never seen evidence of patient abuse or neglect, she had experienced violence at the hands of patients who often had severe learning difficulties.
Ms Keenan, who worked mainly with children at the hospital between 1973 and 2016, told the inquiry of instances including a fire extinguisher being thrown at her. She believed that if it had hit her she would have been ‘seriously brain damaged or possibly dead’.
She also recounted being treated at Antrim Area Hospital for eye injuries that caused her to be off work for six weeks, which triggered panic attacks. She returned to work on a phased basis, which then included working with adults.
Many injuries went unreported
Ms Keenan raised several other concerns including that she did not always report lower-level injuries because the accident forms were ‘too time consuming’ to fill out and claimed that support for staff after they were injured was ‘difficult at times’.
She added: ‘If I was given a slap or was hit by patients I would not have always reported this. I think I was injured hundreds of times.’
Ms Keenan told the inquiry of one patient who wrote ‘sexualised letters to staff and threatened to rape me’ and who also stubbed out cigarettes on nurses’ heads.
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The trust said it was unable to comment because of the ongoing public inquiry and criminal investigation.
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