Derry MP Mark Durkan has accused the British government of not facing up to the “crisis” facing residential care homes.
His remarks come as troubled care home operator Southern Cross - which operates a number of care homes in the North West - revealed it has reached an agreement that gives it four months to find a solution to its financial difficulties.
Southern Cross will continue to run all its care homes - which include Greenhaw Lodge and Culmore Manor in Derry, Melmount Manor in Strabane and Longfield in Eglinton - during that time.
At the end of the process, Southern Cross is expected to end up operating under a different name with between 250 and 400 of its current 751 care homes.
The process will be overseen by a restructuring committee consisting of representatives from the Darlington-based company and its landlords.
Mark Durkan, however - who attended a GMB union briefing at Westminster this week to discuss the plight of more than 150 residents and 200 staff at Southern Cross’ NW care homes - says the government must secure the protection of residents if the company collapses.
“I agreed with the GMB union - which was critical of the fact that the government has been disengaged from this issue – that it must now clearly assign a Cabinet Minister to engage on this,” he said. “A financial crisis has created a corporate crisis and now a care crisis. I also pointed out that the Cabinet Minister must be clearly engaged with devolved ministers as well.
“I reflected the concern that here in the north there hadn’t been much intelligence-scoping by the department on the issue and the implications for residents and staff here. I also raised the point that there would be concern that Southern Cross, in an attempt to solve its corporate difficulties, would consolidate in England or regions of it, at the expense of the standing of their operations and contracts in Derry and throughout the north.”
Mr Durkan says many people will be “perturbed and confused” by the fact that the government is “derelict” on the real crisis affecting care homes in funding, ownership and stability, but is diligent – in terms of new Welfare Reform Bill measures – in trying to claw back the pittance that some people in those care homes receive.
“The government should be addressing the real crisis that is facing care homes and not the nonsense with which they have obsessed themselves,” he added.