The health minister has bowed to sustained pressure to meet relatives of dementia patients campaigning to retain the Slievemore Nursing unit in Londonderry.
The unit is due to shut at the end of this month.
A Save Slievemore campaign by relatives of the patients living at the unit has won huge support from the public as well as politicians at all levels, including Foyle MP Mark Durkan.
Now Edwin Poots has cleared his diary and will meet relatives of the patient at the Derry unit on Monday.
Jane Dunton's husband Tony has advanced dementia and she was among those who pleaded with Mr Poots to show the same clemency he did to the residents of care homes under threat of closure. Speaking to the North West Telegraph, Mrs Dunton said: “Time is of the essence and all we ask the minister is that he shows our relatives the same respect he did to the people who were being pushed out of the residential homes.
“The only difference between them and us is that our relatives cannot speak for themselves, but that doesn't mean they are unaware that something is very wrong and we have genuine concerns for the health and well-being of the patients if they are forced out.
“Ideally we would have liked the minister to come and see Slievemore and the care our relatives receive there but really there isn’t enough time, we are at the 111th hour as it is.
“We have been buoyed by the tremendous support we have received.”
Mr Durkan wrote to Mr Poots requesting he witnessed the care given to dementia sufferers at the unit and hear relatives’ concerns.
He welcomed Mr Poots’ decision to come to Derry and said: “The Slievemore Nursing Unit families cannot understand how their relatives are still expected to suffer summary closure and dislocation from their home while the minister has recently offered assurances that vulnerable elderly people should not be relocated against their wishes.”
Maeve McLaughlin MLA, who sits on the Assembly's Health Committee, also backs the campaigners.
She said: “It’s very important that the minister hears at first hand the concerns of the families affected by this proposed closure.”