HEALTH Minister Edwin Poots has summoned the bosses of Northern Ireland’s health trusts to attend a meeting on Friday to discuss the closure of nursing homes.
Mr Poots described the handling of the situation as “disastrous” and said the directors of all trusts will be asked to explain themselves.
On Thursday it was revealed that the head of the Northern Trust, Sean Donaghy, was stepping down.
“It has been hugely disappointing for us,” said the DUP minister.
“This has been handled so badly and I am summoning the trusts tomorrow (Friday) to come and see me and explain themselves on this issue.
“I’m instructing them to meet the Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keatinge, in terms of the handling of all of this and it will be myself and the directors of the acute services and elderly services that will be before us.”
“I will be standing by Transforming Your Care but I won’t be standing by all of these care homes closing in the next five months.”
At a board meeting on Thursday the Western Trust approved proposals to proceed to consultation on closing four statutory residential care homes.
They said this would not affect nursing home provision in the area or the Trust’s EMI residential home Seymour Gardens.
The homes; Rectory Field and William Street in Derry, Greenfield in Strabane and Thackeray Place in Limavady have a total of 74 residents, although there is room for almost double that, and they employ around 100 staff.
Speaking earlier at the Trust Board meeting, Chairman of the Western Trust, Mr Gerard Guckian said health and social care is facing a “significant challenge” of implementing changes under Transforming Your Care (TYC).
“The strategic direction in Northern Ireland is that older people should be supported to stay as independent as possible for as long as possible in their own homes,” he said.
“The care needs of older people have changed and reshaping services to promote independence means a move away from the traditional institutional model of residential care homes to ensure that our care provision is suitable for older people and fit for the future.
“In light of this and the expressed wishes of older people the Trust has developed a range of alternative services within the community that now focus on enabling people to remain in their own homes and maintain their independence so as to avoid them having to move into residential care.”
Mr Guckian said those affected would be invited to have their say through the consultation process and that no final decision had been made.
Last week it emerged that the Northern Trust is planning to close all of its homes, with similar proposals said to be in place in the Southern Trust area.
Health Minister Edwin Poots has agreed that around half of residential homes in NI should close as part of the Transforming Your Care reforms.
But Mr Robinson said any trusts planning more closures than that need to think again.
“The policy to approximately reduce by half the number of care homes over the next five years was a sensible enough policy,” said the DUP leader.
“In my view it is not a suitable outcome to have all the care homes closed, which is what at least two are endeavouring to do.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also called for the Health Department to “get a grip” on the issue and deal with the “fear and anxiety” being caused.
SDLP Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan spoke to families and staff at the William Street home in Derry following a meeting with the Trust officials on Wednesday evening.
“Staff are obviously very concerned about what the future might hold for them, whereas families of the residents in William St are confused, angry, they’re very upset,” he said.
Meanwhile DUP East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell and Limavady MLA George Robinson have launched a petition to save Thackeray Place.
Kieran McCarthy, Alliance MLA said he was disappointed that Trusts had “broken the promise” of only closing half of the region’s care homes.
The public service union NIPSA has accused the Western Trust of “effectively serving eviction notices” on elderly residents.
The Belfast Trust said on Thursday that they closed one of three residential homes, Grovetree House, last summer and is aiming to close it permanently.
The Trust said they had no plans to consult on the closure of two other residential homes, which have 20 residents, and there are no planned changes for five other homes for older people with dementia.
A statement said: “Our residents and their families should be assured that they can continue to live there for as long as they wish to.”