The two men at the centre of the controversy over the mass closure of residential care homes across Northern Ireland have insisted the radical proposals are not a done deal.
In an apparent rebuff to health trusts planning to shut all the facilities under their control, Health Minister Edwin Poots has insisted that it will be up to him alone to rubber-stamp any action.
And the man who drew up the radical plans to revamp Northern Ireland's health service, John Compton, denied allegations from Stormont's Health Committee that those pushing the scheme had "moved the goalposts".
The Transforming Your Care (TYC) programme – headed up by Mr Compton, Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Board – was endorsed by Mr Poots, who said 50% of residential care homes can expect to close.
But after residents and families expressed anger at the announcements by trusts that they plan to close virtually all of their care homes, the statements from the two health bosses marks the clearest signal yet of a possible shift in direction.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Poots appeared to distance himself from the moves taken by a number of trusts, saying they will have to demonstrate how radical changes would be beneficial to those affected. He said Transforming Your Care would create 479 supported living places for vulnerable people.
Mr Compton yesterday sat before the Stormont Health Committee where he heard scathing criticism from members regarding the scheme.
Committee member Roy Beggs jnr accused Mr Compton and his colleagues of having "moved the goalposts".
Jim Wells also said he and many others were under the impression that around 50% of residential care facilities would be closed.
He said had members known it could have been up to 100% closures the response to the proposals would have been "very different".
Mr Wells said he believed trusts were in an "arms race" to rid themselves of the financial commitments of care homes.
Throughout the meeting, Mr Compton reiterated his point that no final decisions had been made He said the responses to the consultation process would be given serious consideration before any changes were implemented.
"The decision has not been taken, be clear about this," he said.
"This is not a done deal, it is too important for that."
He also flatly denied the changes were driven by cost-cutting ambitions, saying patient care was at the heart of the overall Transforming Your Care scheme.
"It is nothing to do with money," he said. "This is about a model of care and a sustainable model of care over time."
MLA Kieran McCarthy made reference to elderly residents being "turfed out of their homes".
Mr Compton replied: "We are not going to turf anybody out of anything."
Mickey Brady MLA said those who run private sector care facilties would be "rubbing their hands with glee".
Mr Compton replied: "I think the notion it's a licence to print money is false."
• The Southern Health and Social Care Trust Board will close five facilities.
• TThe Western Health and Social Care Trust has five residential homes in the Strabane, Derry and Limavady areas.
• Belfast Health and Social Care Trust will not reveal the locations of three residential homes in the Belfast area which will now be run down gradually.
• The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has six elderly residential units, which are all under review.
• The Northern Health and Social Care Trust board has backed plans to stop long-term admissions to its entire block of nine residential homes. Half of these facilities will close within three years, before the entire service is closed.
questions & answers
Q How have we arrived at the current situation?
A When he took up his post as Health Minister, Edwin Poots commissioned a review of health and social services in Northern Ireland. The resulting document, Transforming Your Care (TYC), made a series of recommendations on the future of services in Northern Ireland. The health trusts were each asked to produce proposals to meet the requirements set out by TYC, including reducing the number of statutory residential homes by at least 50% over the next three to five years.
Q What is happening at the moment?
A Each trust is developing its own proposals on how it will look after elderly people in future. These are then discussed by the trust boards and if approved they are then subject to a public consultation of about 12 to 14 weeks. They are subject to final approval by Mr Poots.
Q Why are so many statutory residential homes facing closure?
A TYC asked for a reduction of at least 50%. This is the first time specific homes earmarked for closure have been named.
Q How will the needs of elderly people now be met?
A Health officials have said care will be provided in a variety of ways, including older people remaining in their own homes and receiving support.