Confusion reigns over how health bosses will tackle care home crisis
There was confusion last night over how health officials are going to resolve the emerging crisis surrounding care of the elderly in Northern Ireland.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton has asked the Health & Social Care Board (HSCB) to review the planned closure of statutory care homes, but has given no timescale for this work to be completed.
He ordered the review after it was announced that seven private Four Seasons Health Care homes were to shut.
Mr Hamilton has also made no decision on whether he will lift the 'no admission' policy in place at 11 statutory care homes across Northern Ireland.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said: "The review the minister has asked for will need to take into account the trust's individual policies on admissions.
"The timeline will be determined in liaison with the Health and Social Care Board."
Meanwhile, more than 250 residents in the seven Four Seasons homes earmarked for closure now face the upheaval and trauma of moving to new accommodation.
According to the HSCB, there were eight statutory care homes still admitting residents as of November 2, with 70 beds available across Northern Ireland.
More beds are available in private care homes, but unions and politicians have said Tuesday's closure announcement by Four Seasons has revealed the dangers of relying too heavily on private providers.
Staff and residents at the homes were left devastated by the decision to close the homes.
Four Seasons has said it is closing the homes because they are running at a loss.
Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the Stormont health committee, Maeve McLaughlin, has called on the minister to clarify the situation.
She said: "We already know - right down to the constituency - the population figures for 2020 and the percentage of the elderly, and rather than closing facilities we should now be looking at extending the provision.
"I would like the minister to explain what he means by 'review'."
Ms McLaughlin said she hoped it will mean statutory care homes - such as William Street and Rectory Field in her Foyle constituency - will be open to new admissions again.
"There are wider issues here that need to be looked at, because if these two facilities close it is the end of NHS care facilities for the elderly in Derry," she added.
Mr Hamilton has come under fire for the emerging situation.
SDLP deputy leader Fearghal McKinney said it had arisen as a result of underfunding of the sector by three successive DUP Health Ministers.
He warned he has been told by other private providers of residential and domiciliary care that more may have to close because they are not being paid enough to provide the service.
"This is just another example of the failure of the DUP to run things well," he claimed.