Residents of William Street Care Home took to the streets to protest on Friday just hours after receiving letters from Health Minister Edwin Poots in which he apologised for the distress caused to them in recent weeks.
In one letter addressed personally to 88-year-old Elizabeth Shannon, the minister said: “I wanted to say sorry for the unintentional distress caused by the proposals to close a number of residential care homes.” He goes on to say that a new consulation process will be “clear and not rushed” but emphasises that he “cannot give a promise that every person will be able to stay where they wish to”.
Speaking as she protested with other residents outside her home on Friday evening, Elizabeth told the Journal: “I’m just as angry as ever after this letter. I can’t get over my anger. I sold my home to come here to this lovely place where I’m looked after so well by everyone. They couldn’t be better and I’m disgusted that they might close us down.”
“We all feel as if our lovely home is going and it’s just not fair. I don’t think people realise that, this is where we live, it’s where we’re happy, it’s our home and they want to close it down. I’ll keep protesting until they listen to us,” the 88-year-old added.
Elizabeth, together with other residents, was joined by over 100 members of the public at the protest which got huge support from passing traffic on Friday. Amongst the protesters were UNISON members, community representatives, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson, Foyle MLA’s Mark H Durkan, Maeve McLaughlin and Raymond McCartney and Derry’s Mayor, Colr. Kevin Campbell.
The Mayor said while it was heartening to see such great support for the staff and residents of the Western Trust home, the situation was worrying for everyone involved.
He added: “There’s still a great amount of uncertainty here. These elderly people have come through a lot in the past number of weeks but mostly the sense of absolute shock that their home was to close. The reality is that they are still under a lot of stress and I would urge the minister to make clear what his long term intentions are regarding these facilities.”
In the letter residents received, Edwin Poots emphasisied that the focus remained on people being cared for in their own homes.
He writes: “My aim is not to remove services but to improve the quality of care for all older people in Northern Ireland. Our focus in the future will be on the fact that home is, and should be, the centre of care and that individuals will be supported to stay at home for as long as possible, However when individuals need residential care this will be planned to meet their individual needs and will be available to each and every one requiring such.”
The Minister continues by saying that the new consultation process will provide more clarity.
Addressing William Street resident Elizabeth Shannon, he adds: “This new process will be clear and not rushed. It will take more time to ensure meaningful engagement with you and other residents and families and staff. I want you to have your say and be carefully listened to. I expect your views to be respected; while I cannot give a promise that every person will be able to stay where they wish to, Trusts will do all that is reasonably possible to meet your wishes.”
Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan said his party are 100 per cent supportive of staff and residents at William Street and other care homes.
He added: “The SDLP voted against the budget precisely because of the impact it would have on the elderly and other parties insisted then that it would have no impact on front line services. All of these facilities are much loved and much needed.”
Speaking at Friday’s protest, Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney said: “It was very important to be here today to stand in solidarity with the residents, their families and staff. My party colleague Maeve McLaughlin who sits on the Assembly’s Health Committee has met a wide range of people in the past week affected by these proposed closures. We will continue to lobby on their behalf in the days ahead.”