A drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre on the border has been forced to close its doors because it could not address health and fire safety concerns, it emerged tonight.
Cuan Mhuire stopped admitting patients this week to its Newry centre after a review in April by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority, which inspects nursing and care homes, identified several concerns about the facilities.
The centre, which receives Northern Ireland Housing Executive funding and was not a registered nursing or residential home, is due to close within weeks, prompting concern from Sinn Féin, Unionist and SDLP Assembly members about the impact on patients.
The review identified concerns about fire and health and safety checks and the centre’s policy for dealing with attempted suicide and self-harm.
It also highlighted the poor quality of buildings within the site – in particular the limited space in dormitories, bathroom, toilet and shower room facilities, concerns about privacy and dignity issues for patients and about the night-time staffing arrangements.
The authority said today: “At a meeting on Monday, August 20, the management board of Cuan Mhuire advised RQIA and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive that they were unable to meet the legislative requirements for the provision of services provided at their facility to ensure public safety and protection.
“Cuan Mhuire stated that their decision resulted from discussion at an extraordinary general meeting which followed a review of the services by RQIA. This review identified a number of serious concerns relating to the building within which the service was provided – including breaches of basic fire and health and safety standards.
“Concerns were also identified on the issue of care and the protection of vulnerable adults in the facility.
“Following an agreement from the management of Cuan Mhuire to provide an action plan which would make the service compliant with the standards and regulations, RQIA was not satisfied with the measures provided by the management of Cuan Mhuire.”
Cuan Mhuire, which is built on the site of the former Good Shepherd Convent in Newry, has been treating alcoholics and drug addicts over the age of 18 since 1984.
The organisation founded by Sister Consilio of the Sisters of Mercy runs other centres in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Kildare and Tipperary.
The site consists of 50 acres of farmland, farm buildings, a boxing club and buildings which house 129 beds for addicts.
The regulation authority said it had to uphold regulations and standards to ensure services were safe and effective for those using them.
It is believed a new centre may open in the town in 18 months time.
A spokesperson for the regulation authority said: “RQIA understands that Cuan Mhuire will be liaising with the relevant health, social and housing agencies to ensure that the discharge of current residents is appropriately planned.”
Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy, who requested a meeting with his cabinet colleague the Stormont Health Minister Michael McGimpsey, said the decision to close the unit would hit addicts and their families hard.
“Those who informed Cuan Mhuire that it must close have had no consideration for where the suffering addicts can be treated,” the Newry and Armagh MP said.
“In fact what will happen now is that a person who is in the depths of despair and crying out for help will be sent to their GP. What this does is put further pressure on GPs and many other agencies, such as health, housing, and police.”
Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy was concerned that a much-needed and used facility was now being closed.
“It is clear there is a need for such facilities. They help assist people to rebuild their lives. One hopes that an alternative method of help can be found quickly and Cuan Mhuire can relocate.”
Local health agencies have been working with Cuan Mhuire to help promote compliance to best practice standards within the facility.
In a joint statement local health officials said they were working with Cuan Mhuire during the closure process.
“We will be engaging with Cuan Mhuire to see what assistance and support they require in terms of assessing the needs of those living in the facility,” they said.
The SDLP’s Dominic Bradley called on agencies to step in and help those who would be affected by the closure of the facility.
“I will be making representations to the Health Minister and the Minister for Social Development to ensure everything is done to ensure the needs of those who use the facility in Cuan Mhurie are adequately addressed until their new facility is completed,” he said.
“Surely this case should be dealt with compassion rather than compliance?”
Alliance health spokesperson Kieran McCarthy said the closure of Cuan Mhuire with no apparent alternative for patients was very distressing.
“This is particularly worrying given the recent reports showing that drug and alcohol abuse is increasing especially amongst young people,” the Strangford MLA said.
“So without units such as Cuan Mhuire these young people face a difficult future.
“Funding for other such units has been turned down recently by the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey and in light of today’s events I would urge him to put more money into rehabilitation units that provide such vital lifelines for these vulnerable people.”