Health Minister in ‘U-turn’ over care homes closure plan ‘disaster’

Minister Edwin Poots
Minister Edwin Poots

Health Minister Edwin Poots has today ordered Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Trusts to halt their current process for the closure of residential care homes for older people.

And he announced that the process will now be centralised at a regional level describing the way the debacle has been handled so far as “unacceptable”.

Mr Poots said he is 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.

Mr Poots today met representatives from the five Health and Social Care Trusts, 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 at the Southern Trust headquarters in Craigavon, Mr Poots said: “It is unacceptable that any older person feels distressed because of proposals for change.

“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 have a fresh start.”

The Board of the Western Trust yesterday unanimously agreed to begin a 13 weeks consultation process which could see four of the five remaining NHS residential care homes in the Western Trust area, including two in Derry, one in Strabane and one in Limavady closed within 12 months of the end of the consultation period.

The decision, along with those from the other Trusts in the North to close care homes, has provoked a public outcry and widespread media coverage as elderly and infirm residents of care homes affected in the North West made heart-rending appeals for their homes to be saved. Their relatives have also been voiciferous in their anger.

The Commissioner of Older People Claire Keatinge also said the way residents in the North’s care homes had been treated had been “unacceptable”.

“They don’t feel they are being listened to and are afraid. And that is entirely unacceptable. It is not acceptable to frighten older people,” she said.

Mr Poots, while not offering any assurances that there would be no home closures, said the HSCB would now follow best practice when dealing with any further consultation process.

The Minister concluded: “I want to send out a clear message to older people that there will be genuine consultation and their views will be heard. No-one’s care will be put in jeopardy.”