Cautious welcome for U-turn on care homes

Elderly care home residents and workers set to be affected by potential closures in the North West have been given a “stay of eviction” according to a Derry MLA who says Edwin Poots’ decision to perform a dramatic U-turn on the short term future of trust run residential facilities for older people should be given a cautious welcome.

SDLP MLA, Mark H Durkan, said that while he welcomed Friday’s news that the Health Minister had ordered Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Trusts to halt their current process for the closure of residential care homes for older people, the decision came on the back of a “shambolic” process and did not mean that closures were out of the question indefinitely.

“As far as I’m aware, this U-turn does not come with a long term guarantee for any of the facilities in question,” he said.

“I would be afraid that people may see the turn around as being brilliant news when there’s a likelihood it could be replaced by a new process next year which may not see current residents being asked to leave their homes but a process whereby there would be no new admissions until it no longer becomes feasible to operate certain facilities.”

The Foyle MLA said the situation had been handled poorly by the Health Minister provoking a storm of public outrage.

“This whole thing has been pretty shambolic and the Health Minister has continued to try passing the buck on the issue and in the middle of all of it we have some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Why didn’t he step in sooner to stop all the trauma and worry they’ve had to go through?

“While I welcome the decision he’s made I would be concerned that it is slowing down rather than stopping a process which will ultimately lead to less provision for our elderly who are looked after extremely well in these residential care homes,” he added.

Mr Durkan also criticised the First and Deputy First Minister.

“It’s a tad hypocritical to hear the First and Deputy first Minister criticising these cuts when they were made inevitable by the budget which was voted in two years ago at a time when the SDLP specifically flagged up the care of the elderly as an area of concern,” he said.

Mr Poots said he is now asking the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) to initiate a new process which will place, at its core, the principle of sensitivity to the needs and wishes of older people. The new process will be led by Fionnuala McAndrew, Director of Social Services at the HSCB.

The Health Minister met representatives from the five Health and Social Care Trusts on Friday, including the Chief Executive of the Western Trust, Elaine Way and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) to convey his “serious concerns” about engagement with individuals and families.

Speaking after the meeting he said: “Older people and their families have been left upset and alarmed. That should never be the by-product of a process which is all about improving the lives of older people and giving them more control.

“This is why we will need a fresh start.”