HEALTH Minister Edwin Poots has apologised to elderly people for the distress caused over plans to close down care homes.
However, he has said that he has now put in place a process to manage change in the coming months.
The DUP MLA was taking questions in the Assembly on Tuesday morning over the care homes debacle.
However, he didn’t answer all Sinn Fein MLA and Health Committee chair Sue Ramsey’s questions about specific care homes and the process involed in closing homes down.
She asked him three times to give a guarantee that elderly people will not be forced out of what they now call their homes.
Minister Poots didn’t answer.
However, he repeatedly reminded the Assembly that Sinn Fein and other parties supported the Transforming Your Care policy which said “at least 50 per cent” of care homes would close.
Edwin Poots said Trusts were “at liberty” to treat elderly the way they did because of how they were set up by former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.
In a statement, Sue Ramsey said that the Health Minister must ensure that the needs and well-being of those affected are paramount prior to any further implementation of Transforming Your Care.
Said the west Belfast MLA: “The fear and distress caused by the care homes fiasco must not be repeated and the minister must ensure such a mess does not happen again and that any confusion between his department and the Health Trusts are, unlike this time, cleared up immediately.
“He needs to ensure that that the needs and well-being of those affected are paramount prior to any further implementation of Transforming Your Care.
“Transforming Your Care is being introduced to make our health system better and bringing that care into the community.
“The mess surrounding the care homes announcements plainly shows that the minister has taken his eye off the ball and that is unacceptable.”
SDLP MLA John Dallat sought assurances that the Health Trusts would never again be allowed out “like hound dogs” scaring people.
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister wanted to know why health minister took so long to put the brakes on the Trusts, some of whom planned to close all their care homes by November 2013.
Mr Allister tweeted: “Poots’ Assembly statement avoids facing up to buck stopping with him; charter for delayed closure by stealth of no investment, no admissions.”
UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said she raised the plight of Crozier House with Edwin Poots.
“He should visit Lyndon Boyle who told me last week he felt treated ‘like a piece of scrap’,” said the MLA.
Last Friday, the Health Minister withdrew all powers from Health Trusts to shut care homes in Northern Ireland.
The huge U-turn followed a massive public outcry from residents, care home workers and politicians over plans by some boards to shut all their residential homes.
He has withdrawn all power from the trusts in implementing the policy and said that the process would be centralised at a regional level.
The care home closure story was first revealed by UTV on Wednesday, April 24.
It was the first time Mr Poots said he became aware of the plan.
Mr Poots said on Friday: “It is unacceptable that any older person feels distressed because of proposals for change.”
The Minister added that the Health and Social Care Board “to initiate a new process which will place, at its core, the principle of sensitivity to the needs and wishes of older people.”
Speaking after a meeting at the Southern trust headquarters in Craigavon, County Armagh, Mr Poots said: “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.
“This is about listening to our older people and their families and our own staff. I have said I want genuine communication with every person affected and every individual to be treated with sensitivity and dignity.
“I expect the HSCB to take account of what the Commissioner for Older People has said, and to engage with the Patient Client Council, where appropriate.”
The Minister said proposals must be in line with policy and the pace of any proposed closures must be understood by individuals, staff and the wider public.
He went on to say: “The HSCB must work with trusts and coordinate a regional approach on residential care homes, engaging with the Commissioner for Older People.”
Mr Poots said he expected the HSCB to provide assurance that best practice is followed. This will include:
- Communication and engagement with individuals, families and staff;
- That the needs of individuals are being addressed in any proposed change and that their wishes are being listened to;
- That proposed changes are in line with policy; and
- That the pace of change is clear, appropriate and in line with policy.
Oversight from the Department’s Chief Social Services Officer, Sean Holland, will provide further assurance for the Minister.
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.
“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.
“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.”
On Thursday, the Western trust said that its intention was to close four NHS residential care homes and defended its actions, saying it had tried to be honest with people during its discussions.
The Southern and the Northern trusts had already announced the potential closure of all their NHS residential care homes.
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said on Thursday that the trusts should “think again” about closing all their care homes.