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 plans are part of a wide-ranging reform of elderly care provision across Northern Ireland.
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 in Northern Ireland 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 mark the clearest signal yet of a possible shift in direction.
Writing in Thursday’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.
“If it is accepted that we can do care differently and better that is good — but how we meet the needs of those currently in statutory residential care is of critical importance,” he said.
“The fact is, many of those in such facilities are extremely happy and don’t want change. It is therefore essential that disruption to them is minimised. TYC recommended at least 50% of statutory residential homes closing over five years.
“If trusts want to go further with elderly homes, then they have to clearly demonstrate how and why this is in the best interests of residents. That is what I will expect.”
And he said it was vital those tasked with overseeing the reforms earmarked in TYC “stand should to shoulder with carers”.
“We all have a vested interest in how we care for older people as we have elderly relatives or hope to be elderly ourselves in the future,” he said.
“I want a system that extends healthy years, supports independence, maintains dignity and gives respect to a generation to whom we owe so much.”
Mr Poots said Transforming Your Care would create 479 supported living places for vulnerable people.
Mr Compton sat before the Stormont Health Committee on Wednesday where he heard scathing criticism from members regarding the scheme.
Committee member Roy Beggs 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 if members had 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 residential 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.”
Mr Compton 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.”
Assembly member 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.”