The older people's commissioner warned Health Minister Edwin Poots about closing residential care homes a year ago, it has been revealed.
Claire Keatinge told the minister that a timetable for the changes should have been set out and overseen by his department on a regional basis during a briefing more than a year ago.
He has apologised “unreservedly” for stress felt by the residents of homes due to shut and halted the process for six months after health trusts announced the controversial step recently.
UUP MLA Roy Beggs said: “Bearing in mind that the health minister was warned of the potential pitfalls more than a year ago, it is even more incredible that he permitted the disaster which emerged in the last fortnight to occur. The commissioner for older people gave him 12 months' warning of what could go wrong. That the minister ignored her advice merely compounds his shame.”
It was announced recently that 18 NHS care homes would close, affecting 307 residents.
In what was branded a U-turn, Mr Poots instructed all five health and social care trusts, which run services, to drop plans to close the State-run residential homes and said the matter would be handled by the central Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) instead. He said he never supported the trusts' proposals in the first place.
The commissioner's briefing document from April last year warned: “The effect a home clo
sure has on residents' health and psychological well-being is likely to be influenced by the way in which a home is closed and the relocation managed.
“It is possible to manage the process of relocation into another care arrangement in ways that are least damaging for the residents involved.”
Mr Poots said: “In my oral statement of 19th March to the Assembly I said that transition for older people should be managed sensitively and with appropriate consultation with families and carers.
“It is unfortunate that in their enthusiasm to deliver Transforming Your Care, some trusts moved ahead in the way that they did.
“However I have now directed the HSCB to lead a new process,” he added.
More than a year ago, the older people's commissioner, Claire Keatinge, recommended to Health Minister Edwin Poots
that minimising negative impacts on care home residents had to be at the heart of any process to close care homes, and that planned closures should be handled on a regional basis through the health department. Plans about how care would be managed should be clearly set out.