Dickson: Disturbing report highlights need for reform of nursing home regulation

East Antrim Alliance MLA, Stewart Dickson, has said that the publication of the Independent Review of the actions taken in relation to concerns raised about the care delivered at Cherry Tree House, Carrickfergus, has highlighted the urgent need for reform of how nursing homes are regulated in Northern Ireland.

The report was commissioned following serious concerns raised about the standard of care at Cherry Tree House between 2005 and 2013. Originally a desktop exercise, the report’s remit was widened earlier this year following representations by Mr Dickson on behalf of residents’ families and others.

He said that the report highlighted disturbing and serious failings by the Home, Northern Trust and the RQIA.

Stewart Dickson MLA said: “The report makes clear that Cherry Tree House consistently failed to comply with minimum standards of care, with major issues of concerns remaining largely unaddressed for years.

“By the time of an inspection in March 2013, Cherry Tree had failed to adequately address issues raised as early as 2005, including training of staff in the management of medicines, robust audit systems and accurate personal medication records.

“There were other serious problems with maintenance of the home, the management of incontinence, restraint of clients and the supervision of staff.”

Mr Dickson continued that some of the reports most serious aspects concerned the apparent failings within the RQIA’s inspection process:

“I am particularly disturbed by the RQIA’s reliance on assurances by home management that standards were being complied with. The report notes that this was even accepted over the phone, with no inspection being carried out.

“It is also clear that RQIA inspectors did not use their initiative. Rather, they mostly stuck rigidly to inspection plans and failed to investigate recurrent issues, recent complaints and matters on which they had ‘intelligence’ during inspections.

“In one incident, the RQIA received information on the morning of an inspection that pages referring to serious shortcomings had been ripped from Cherry Tree’s communications book, yet there was no evidence that the book was subsequently inspected, despite these allegations.”

Mr Dickson also said that whilst the Northern and Belfast Health Trusts were subject to less criticism in the report, he remains concerned about the standard of their communication with complainants and their effectiveness in dealing with complaints:

“The Health Trusts have a responsibility to their clients in nursing homes such as Cherry Tree, yet it is clear from the report that the families of vulnerable residents did not know who to turn to with their concerns.

“I am therefore pleased that the report contains a number of recommendations on how the Trusts should improve their relationship and communication with clients and their families, including a primary responsibility to set out the proper complaints procedures.

“Although the report states that the Health Trusts followed appropriate procedures in investigating allegations of abuse and neglect, clearly serious shortcomings affecting the standard of care provided to their clients were allowed to persist for a number of years.

“This calls into question the effectiveness of these procedures in protecting vulnerable clients placed in the care of nursing homes by the Health Trusts.”

Mr Dickson concluded that the report has highlighted the urgent need for reform of how the quality of nursing homes is regulated and inspected in Northern Ireland:

“The overwhelming number of recommendations shows the scale of reform that is required to ensure that we have robust inspection procedures and enforcement mechanisms in place.

“The report directly refers to the system in Wales, which does not tolerate repeated failures affecting the care of nursing home residents.

“I will be raising the need to examine such alternative models with my colleagues on the Assembly’s Health Committee and with the Department of Health.

“I would like to commend the families and others who have spoken out about their experiences. Their courage and bravery is an example to us all and will hopefully lead to improved nursing and residential care for older people in Northern Ireland.”


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