A woman who was admitted to Muckamore Abbey Hospital for up to a month’s respite is finally moving into her own home 18 months later.
Ashley Morgan, 43, is part of a resettlement programme that aims to move men and women out of the hospital and into the community.
BBC News NI has learned that five patients due for relocation will not move before the end-of-year deadline.
NI’s chief social worker Sean Holland said he was “disappointed”.
However, he said it was vital the authorities “got it right”.
‘Invite people over’
The County Antrim hospital provides facilities for adults with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs.
In December 2018, the Department of Health’s permanent secretary said “no one should have to call Muckamore their home in future, when there are better options for their care”.
Richard Pengelly made a number of commitments including that the resettlement process should be completed by the end of 2019.
That will not now happen.
Ashley, who is deaf and has learning difficulties and mental health problems, is getting used to living under her own roof with round-the-clock support.
There are no locks on her front door and she can come and go as she pleases.
With a team of specialist staff and supported by the charity, Positive Futures, she is able to live in her own home in the heart of a community with her family just a few streets away.
The house has two bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and a yard.
Ashley told the BBC that she was “happy and glad”.
“I feel I am more independent and I am looking forward to inviting people over for a cup of tea or coffee,” she said.
“I chose magnolia for the walls and I will have cushions on the sofa, and I chose my own bedroom furniture and duvet and curtains. I am so excited. “
In January, the BBC revealed that 38 men and women were living unnecessarily in Muckamore Abbey Hospital as care could not be found for them elsewhere.
The figure triggered local mental health charities to urge the Department of Health to intervene and try harder to re-house the patients in the community.
It is a complicated process with some still not medically fit to be discharged.
‘Never home alone’
According to the Department of Health, as of this week there are 11 people living in Muckamore who should be living in the community.
It is planned that six of those will be resettled by the end of the year, leaving five in the hospital.
Four of that five will have pathways in place and should be living in the community within several months.
Mr Holland said the process had to be done correctly.
“I am disappointed because for each individual person this is a massive deal and we can see the huge difference it can make to each individual’s life,” he said.
“But the process is slow, it’s not an easy thing to do and we must get it right.”
Agnes Lunny, chief executive of Positive Futures, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities, said while the process was complicated the department must keep its foot on the pedal.
“It is a really complex set of relationships, processes, systems, and getting all that right and holding people to account is a real challenge,” she said.
“Clearly we have the person at the centre – in this case Ashley, her family, then the Belfast Health Trust, us, Positive Futures, to support her, a multidisciplinary team, the landlord and funding all of this and pulling it all together is extremely difficult.”
Ashley will never be home alone, with care including including a qualified support worker remaining in the house overnight.
Ms Lunny said that, while it was challenging, those on the resettlement programme had every right to be living in their own home regardless of cost.
“Then, there is the issue of workforce and it’s not just any old workforce,” she said.
“We need to make sure that the staff we employ are the very best in how they are trained and just how dedicated they are to people like Ashley.”
Mr Holland admits that staffing is a challenge.
“This is amazing, rewarding and satisfying work but not necessarily as financially rewarding as I think it should be,” he said.
“That’s a challenge, but there are people who are dedicated and passionate about doing this work.
“We need to increase that workforce and I believe their wages will have to go up as the demand for them will drive up the cost of the labour. ”
‘They were good to her’
Ashley’s father, Colin, described his daughter’s move as significant.
“We thought she was just going in for a month, she lasted 18 months,” he said.
“Her mum and I couldn’t cope at the time but then Ashley got lost in the system.
“The nurses looked after her without a doubt. They were good to her. But she’s only getting out now.”
Mr Morgan appealed to local politicians to get back to Stormont.
“They have to put the people first, they should be back in Stormont it’s been two and a half years now,” he added.
“We need them in Stormont to help people like my Ashley to get out.”