Iveagh Centre: Discharging children from Belfast unit 'recipe for disaster'

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Image source, Belfast Trust
Image caption,
The inpatient centre provides care for children with learning disabilities and mental health needs

Discharging children from a Belfast learning disability unit without support is a "recipe for disaster", a mental health solicitor has said.

It comes after parents were told they had to urgently collect their children from the Iveagh Centre due to staffing issues on 16 September.

The Belfast Health Trust describes staffing arrangements as "challenging".

Eamonn McNally, from the Children's Law Centre, said there needed to be a "robust support package" put in place for discharged patients and families to ensure its success.

He added that any patient discharge needs to be carefully planned.

"To give someone less than an hour's notice and say to them that you must take your child home without the proper support is a recipe for disaster," he told Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme.

Families who were contacted by the Iveagh Centre were given a short notice period to pick up the discharged patients with no immediate explanation provided.

'Important resource'

Mr McNally said staffing at the centre had not been a problem previously.

He added that blame should not be placed on the centre itself, and the Belfast Health Trust should step up to help.

"The Iveagh Centre is reliant on structures that support it to ensure that the supports are there for families," he said.

"It's the community side of the trust that have to put the supports in place."

Mr McNally said the facility has been "plagued" by issues surrounding discharging patients since it opened in 2010, with some patients waiting two or three years for packages.

These lengthy waits can cause children in acute hospital care to deteriorate, and can be "totally detrimental" to staff moral, Mr McNally said.

"The trust have to realise that Iveagh [Centre] is such an important resource, they have to get behind the staff and management, put the resources there and get the appropriate staff in."

'I actually felt sick'

One parent whose teenage daughter was amongst those discharged from the centre said the experience left her terrified.

She was attending a Garth Brooks concert with her sister when she received a call from the facility asking her to pick up her child.

"I have never suffered anxiety in my life, I actually felt sick that day," she told Good Morning Ulster.

She also received a text from staff where she was told to bring plastic bags for her daughter's clothes and belongings as there was a staffing issue.

Thirty minutes after arriving at home, the 13-year-old began biting her hands and banging her head on the living room floor.

Image source, PAcemaker
Image caption,
Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín said the issue was placing high-risk young people in even more risk

After speaking with the advocate at the centre, she was told to readmit her daughter to the centre where emergency staff were in place.

"It was too dangerous as a safeguarding issue in the house for her to be here," she said.

Sinn Féin's Carál Ní Chuilín had written to health minister Robin Swann and the Belfast Health Trust, which runs the Iveagh Centre, seeking an "urgent solution".

"Closing Iveagh House and leaving high-risk young people and their families with no certainty on when it would reopen is totally unacceptable," she said.

"One of the vulnerable young people discharged from the centre on Friday night was immediately returned to care on Saturday night.

"This has clearly placed an already high-risk young person at even more risk," she added.

'Challenging'

The Belfast Health Trust said the staffing arrangement was "challenging".

"Staffing levels are kept under ongoing review in order to maintain the highest levels of care and the centre remains open," said the Trust.

"Young people who are discharged from the Iveagh Centre have a care plan in place to ensure they and their families have support."

The Department of Health said the centre was experiencing "staffing difficulties" and was therefore "having to manage the associated risks".

"In some cases this has led to a decision to discharge patients into community placements," it added.

"[The] Iveagh [Centre] continues to have sufficient staff to provide assessment and treatment to patients."