U-turn on care home closures welcomed

May 7, 2013

By Christine Keighery

The decision by Northern Ireland Health Minister to drop the current closure policy for residential care homes has been welcomed by local political representatives.

Sinn Fein spokesperson for Older People, Mickey Brady, described the Minister’s u-turn as ‘the only logical decision’ to be made while SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, Dominic Bradley gave a cautious welcome to the change of mind, insisting that the fight must continue to ensure that care homes remain open.

Minister Poots revealed on Friday that he had instructed representatives of all the Northern Ireland health trusts to drop their current closure policy.

He withdrew all power to implement the policy from the trusts and indicated that the process would be centralised at a regional level.

Mr Poots said it was “unacceptable” older people were suffering distress over the proposals to close homes and admitted he had serious concerns about engagement with individuals and families over the proposed closures.

Speaking after a meeting at the Southern trust headquarters in Craigavon, County Armagh, the Minister 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.

“I expect a process which not only identifies the needs of each individual affected by proposed changes, but also understands the wishes of every single individual and their families. I expect these wishes to be respected, and this extends to all staff.”

He said he wanted to send out “a clear message” to the elderly that their views would be heard during “genuine consultation” and reiterated that “no-one’s care will be put in jeopardy.”

As part of the Transforming Your Care policy, 50% of care homes were due to close although some health trusts had announced that they would close all their homes.

The Examiner reported last week that, after almost forty years providing care for the elderly, Cloughreagh House residential care home was one of five Southern Trust homes set to close its doors.  The news had sparked much anger and frustration among local representatives, with elderly residents and their families saddened and distressed by the imminent upheaval.

Sinn Fein MLA, Mickey Brady, a member of the Assembly’s Health Committee said of Friday’s u-turn by the Minster for Health,

“Common sense has prevailed to reverse a decision which was wrong and targeted the most vulnerable people in our society.  This issue was handled abysmally but I’m glad that Minister Poots has shown that he is in charge, something he should have done from the beginning of this fiasco.

“I understand that the Minister will be making a statement to the Assembly on Tuesday and this will give us an opportunity to question him on how he intends to proceed and also how he will ensure that such a situation does not occur again.”

Local councillor Pat McGinn added

“I think the people should make Edwin Poots aware of their anger in relation to this and I urge him to make the future of homes such as Cloughreagh House secure.

“People Power has ensured an abrupt stalling of this disaster which was being steam rolled out by the Trusts. I am sure that residents, their families and staff of Cloughreagh House and all other targeted centres will now have an opportunity to have their views and wishes clearly heard.”

Speaking after spending the afternoon in Cloughreagh House with Cllr John Feehan, residents, staff, and relatives, SDLP MLA, Dominic Bradley said,

‘I welcome the fact that Mr Poots has changed his view on the closure of residential homes.  I spoke with residents and staff at Cloughreagh House and saw the dismay that looming closure was causing.  This decision will bring a huge sigh of relief to all concerned and means that residents, staff, and relatives can feel a greater sense of security about the future.  This was a victory for all those who spoke out against the proposed closure of the homes but the fight must continue to keep the homes open.

Councillor Feehan said,

‘We must remain vigilant about the future of our residential homes.  This announcement, whilst helpful, does not totally secure the future of the homes and we need to continue to pile on the pressure. Mr Poots has said that this is a u-turn on process but not on policy.  I would hope that having seen the public wrath at the proposal to close the homes Mr Poots will reverse this particular aspect of his policy.