Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Care homes farce forgetting elderly

Health Minister Edwin Poots is right about one thing – the plans to close statutory residential care homes across the province have been handled disastrously.

The scale of protest from relatives and trade unions has caught politicians on the hop and yesterday there was much finger pointing and blame laying as all involved tried to distance themselves from the chaos.

Certainly the health trusts will feel that they have been hung out to dry, not least by Mr Poots. There has also been a tortuous mangling of the English language. Under Mr Poot's vision of the way forward in care of the elderly at least half of the NHS homes in the province were to close.

That figure now seems redundant with the northern, southern and western health boards revealing plans to shut all their statutory facilities.

Little wonder that the elderly residents of the homes and their relatives don't know who or what to believe and little wonder that they feel angry and betrayed. As even his own party leader, Peter Robinson, has said, it is now up to Mr Poots to take charge of the situation.

While the trusts may have operational responsibility, he is in charge of the overall strategy and should move to clarify what exactly is going to happen. Ideally he should decide if residential care should move entirely to the private sector or if the NHS should provide facilities for those who need them. Part of the problem is that there was no proper debate on the future of care homes before it reached this farcical stage.

The trusts say that they have had, or will have, consultations on their plans, but they have already created the impression that closure is a done deal and that talking to the public is merely a cosmetic exercise. Central to all this discussion should have been the welfare of elderly people who are now extremely fearful of what the future holds. Instead they have been virtually ignored and treated lamentably. But will anyone be made to pay? Sadly that is very unlikely.

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