Health Minister Jim Wells has confirmed he will visit a Derry respite centre for children with disabilities amid widespread concerns over its future.
The Minister’s officials have now told the Journal that Mr Wells hoped to visit The Cottages in the near future.
The same assurances have also been given to SDLP Foyle MLAs Mark H Durkan and Pat Ramsey during a meeting with Mr Wells this week.
The visit comes after thousands of local people signed a change.org petition against cuts to the services available for children and their families and carers in Derry. The proposed changes- put forward by the Western Health and Social Care Trust- could mean many of the children currently looked after on occassion at The Cottages may in future have to travel to Omagh for respite care.
SDLP MLA for Foyle Mark H Durkan welcomed the Health Minister’s intervention on the matter.
Speaking after meeting with the Mr Wells, Mr Durkan called on the Western Trust to open up the channels of communication with families.
Mr Durkan said: “This morning my colleague SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey and I met again with the Health Minister and asked him to urgently intervene and scrap the proposed scaling down of the Cottages Respite Facility in Derry.
“We warned Minister Wells of the public support for this facility and the devastating impact any reduction in service would have on the most disabled children.
“I am pleased the Minister has since reassured us that no decision would be made on the future of the facility until he visited the City.”
Mr Durkan added: “While I welcome the Minister’s intervention, I would urge the Western Trust to get in touch with families and staff who have just been left in limbo awaiting the outcome of the consultation.
“This is particularly important as over the weekend reports came through that the redeployment process is underway for staff at the cottages. I have received assurances today from the Trust that this is just a contingency ahead of any decision but one which is understandably worrying for families hearing such reports and very stressful for staff members.
“This campaign is one that is not going to go away.
“The parents and carers have successfully stepped the campaign, having launched their own short video and online petition. I would urge people to show their support.”
His party colleague Pat Ramsey MLA added: “Moves to close the Cottages is disappointing on a number many levels. Not only would closing the Cottages cause undue stress and additional trauma on families who already face significant and real challenges every day, it actually translates to the abandonment of special needs children in order to balance their books for a relatively insignificant sum.
“This service is a real benefit to those children with special needs and everyone in Derry should do all we can to ensure it stays in the city.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Health responded: “As well as providing services within the commissioned level of funding and the increase in demand for respite/short breaks, the Western Trust is currently reviewing its respite services.
“The review of services has highlighted the need to remodel both respite facilities to reflect the new and emerging needs, including the needs of children with complex physical healthcare needs who require increased staffing levels.
“The Western Health and Social Care Trust has advised that the consultation with staff was extended until 24 December and that individual discussions with families will continue as necessary.
“The Minister hopes to visit the facility in the near future and, meanwhile, the Western Trust will keep the Department updated.”