Support workers with learning disability charity Mencap have raised “serious issues” about mismanagement of its services which are putting clients and staff safety at risk in Derry.

A group of vulnerable individuals based at Mencap’s Supported Living Service in the city, which cannot be identified for reasons of confidentiality, have learning difficulties and complex needs which require 24-hour care and support.

Mencap support workers, backed by their trade union, UNISON, have now brought numerous management “failures” to the attention of the Derry News which demonstrate how both service users and staff are currently being placed at risk.

“Staff shortages” at night are reduced to dangerous levels meaning the needs of service users are being compromised, they explained.

Mencap workers said they have had to deal with serious self-harm incidents and violence directed at staff.  It is their assertion that it isn’t a mental health organisation and they have been given no support or training in that field despite having to support people with such needs.

When a service user requires specialist treatment they are transferred to Lakeview Hospital which is a Western Trust run facility.  Support workers must accompany their client and provide support throughout their stay.

Representing Mencap workers, Trade Union UNISON, said these matters had been brought before management on several occasions with a view to finding solutions, “but this has been ineffective.”

Highlighting “failures” on the part of the Western Trust and Mencap management, UNISON said there are no risk assessments for Mencap staff or service users while in Lakeview Hospital.

There is a lack of information regarding potential risks to its members from other service users within Lakeview Hospital and no acknowledgement or follow up after its members reported incidents within the hospital to Mencap management.

Furthermore, Mencap support workers were advised to use PBM (Positive Behaviour Management) on other service users “when attacked in Lakeview Hospital”.  However, PBM training says that two staff need to present for it to be used, when only one of its members is in Lakeview at any given time.

This has led to a breakdown in trust between Mencap staff and the project manager and other grievances have been lodged regarding sick protocol, staff breaks and inadequate staff facilities.

‘Challenging constraints’

A spokesperson for UNISON said: “Our Community Branch Officers have been supporting our members who work at the Mencap scheme at this supported living service.

“Following several meetings it has become apparent that our members are working within very challenging constraints.

“UNISON have made contact with Mencap and await a response.”

Addressing staff concerns, Barry McMenamin, Regional Operations Manager for Mencap NI said: “More than 80 people with a learning disability across Northern Ireland are supported by Mencap's hard working and dedicated staff.

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of the issues raised to ensure the privacy of our tenants and staff, we will be meeting with staff to listen and resolve any concerns they have.”

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) said: “The Western Trust works closely with Mencap to ensure the safe and supportive care of clients who use their services and will continue to do so on a regular basis.

“Respecting patient/client confidentiality the Western Trust does not comment on individual cases.”

She added: “Policies and procedures are in place to protect clients and staff.”

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