Pensioners are today facing the trauma of being uprooted from care facilities they regard as home.
The Western Trust has proposed the closure of four residential homes it runs, after similar announcements by other health bodies in Northern Ireland.
Staff and residents of Thackeray Place in Limavady were the first to hear board members of the trust outline its proposals to shut the facility.
The same information was relayed to staff and residents at Rectory Field in the Waterside late yesterday evening.
The trust’s two other residential homes in William Street in Derry and Greenfields in Strabane will be told later today.
The board proposes to enter into a 12-week consultation period but union officials described this as meaningless. Under the proposals the 73 residents at the four facilities will either have to move into a private residential home or be cared for at home.
Among those affected is a woman aged 102 and 92-year-old Margaret Hunter, who has been living in Thackeray Place for the past two years after she became too frail to remain in her own home.
Ms Hunter’s niece Hester Williamson said: “My aunt, although she did marry, never had any children, but she led a fairly independent life in her own home until not all that long ago.
“She was burgled and then she moved into sheltered accommodation, but then she fell and needed to go into hospital and really, after that, she needed more care and that was when she went into Thackeray.
“She is fully alert and takes a good interest in everything that goes on around her, so this will hit her hard.
“It will be very traumatic for her to have to move from here and go into another nursing home.”
Josie McCann, whose mother is 99, said: “I honestly believe that if my mother was moved from there it would kill her.”
In addition to the 73 residents, there are also 100 staff who now face an uncertain future.
Union officials from Unison and the Royal College of Nursing also met with the board.
Sue Ramsey, chairwoman of the Stormont health committee, urged Health Minister Edwin Poots to get to grips with the situation over closure plans.
“The final decision rests with the minister. If he is saying that 50% of homes will close within three and five years and the trusts come back and say, ‘no, we are doing it now', he needs to make a decision and say ‘no, I'm the minister, I'm leading on this, you'll do as I say’.”
Unison regional organiser Joe McCluskey said: “It said that after staff and residents were informed there would be a three-month consultation period. But we believe that this is meaningless and they have already begun the process of closing these homes.
“The alternatives facing the residents are either to care for them in their own homes or move them into private residential homes.”
He added: “It has become evident that there is a policy of privatisation from the minister being implemented by the trusts and that has not been debated or scrutinised on the floor of the Assembly.”
A Western Trust spokeswoman said that it has been taking proposals on the future of residential home care provision in the Limavady, Derry and |Strabane council areas to its board.
She added: “If approved by the trust board, the proposals will be the subject of a full consultation process over the coming months before any decisions are reached.”
Londonderry's Seymour Gardens for dementia patients, and five similar facilities in Belfast, have all been ring-fenced from closure. But the Northern Trust has plans to stop long-term admissions to its entire block of nine homes. Half those facilities will close within three years, before the entire service is closed.
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust has announced that its five facilities will close — while three in the Belfast area are being gradually run down. All six State-owned elderly residential units are under review in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust area.
Minister’s ruthless approach letting down most vulnerable
Mark H Durkan
“The past couple of weeks have seen decisions by other health trusts to close residential homes, so any move to close homes in the west is no huge surprise.
“However, Minister Poots’ response to questions about these closures will do nothing to ease the fears of elderly residents and their families.
“People are now faced with huge decisions on their futures and many older residents will simply be devastated at possibly having to move home at this time in their life. Staff will also be very worried at what these proposals might mean.
“It is easy to say that people would rather be cared for in their own homes — it is not quite so easy to ensure that this care is provided.
“I believe the wholesale decimation of NHS residential care is short-sighted and, with our ageing population and changing society, one which will be regretted.
“The SDLP have, for some time, expressed concerns about the apparent privatisation agenda at the heart of (healthcare programme) Transforming Your Care.
“People are rightly angry and frustrated at the minister’s ruthless approach where it appears that some of the most vulnerable people in our society are being let down as a result of his determination to privatise the NHS which we have proudly cherished as our own for so long.”
- Mark H Durkan is an SDLP MLA for Foyle