Health chiefs defend consultation
Health chiefs have rebutted claims that a new public consultation on the closure of state-run care homes is a box-ticking exercise.
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), which was ordered to take responsibility for controversial closures following a public backlash earlier this year, said it wanted residents and relatives to help draw up criteria used to determine the future of facilities.
But Fionnuala McAndrew, who is leading the process for the HSCB, said a significant number of residential homes were still likely to shut as part of the Government's new Transforming Your Care reform agenda.
Ms McAndrew, director of social care and children with the HSCB, said: "The important message from today is that no decisions have been taken.
"There are no stringent timescales here.
"It is important that we assess the statutory homes against robust criteria and this is an opportunity for everyone to comment on the way in which we take these decisions.
"I think that is an important issue for the range of stakeholders and something I believe will be welcomed by them."
Under Transforming Your Care, NHS services will focus on helping elderly people to live in their own homes for as long as possible.
The reforms could see at least 50% of statutory residential homes closing over a five-year period.
In May there was fierce criticism after two Health and Social Care Trusts announced an intention to shut all of their residential homes leaving hundreds of elderly people with nowhere to live.
Health Minister Edwin Poots, who had to face down calls for his resignation over his handling of the crisis, was forced to do a U-turn on the emotive issue.
Ms McAndrew said major changes were still in the pipeline to bring services in line with Transforming Your Care but claimed the public would have more say.
She added: "The Transforming Your Care document that was published last year outlines the direction of travel for services for older people and that includes the statutory residential homes.
"It indicated that a significant number of statutory residential homes will close.
"We don't have a specific number in mind but I think it is important to say that remains the direction of travel and we do envisage significant change and that will involve the closure of statutory residential homes as we move forward.
"We recognise the announcements that were made in May caused distress, concern and anxiety to residents and their families.
"That is something that we deeply regret and we have apologised for.
"This is a way of making sure that we continue that change process as outlined in Transforming Your Care and building additional safeguards, having listened to those concerns as we move forward."
State-run residential homes account for around a quarter of the sector in Northern Ireland and privately-owned facilities will not be directly impacted by Transforming Your Care.
The HSCB three-month public consultation on criteria will open in October.
Health bosses are particularly keen to hear from residents, their relatives and staff at care homes.
The agreed criteria will then be used by Trusts to assess their care homes and inform the Board of their future intentions.
During the first three months of next year the HSCB will examine proposals and consider any closures.
Major changes, including proposed closures, will require further consultation.
The HSCB said it had written to all residents informing them of the way forward and claimed staff at care homes had also been updated.