Fears for future of Northern Ireland care homes after fresh review is unveiled
Plans for all five Health Trusts across Northern Ireland to review admission policies for permanent residential care homes have been met with fierce criticism, with the move being branded as a "farce".
The decision, which followed a consultation into the future of residential care by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), has led to an angry response from unions and some families who say the homes could still close.
Unison has accused the HSCB of "failing" in its duty of care towards the public.
However, the HSCB has reiterated the pledge by Health Minister Edwin Poots that all current homes would remain open as long as residents want to stay in them.
Last year plans to close 18 NHS homes with 240 permanent residents sparked a public outcry. In May, Mr Poots was forced to make a U-turn, ordering trusts to suspend consultation plans. The fresh consultation was announced last August and almost 1,200 responses were received.
Yesterday's recommendation to review the admission policy was part of the board's process.
It focused on producing the criteria that should be used to assess a home's future. It will be used by all five trusts.
They will then inform the board of their future intentions which will examine proposals and consider any closures. Currently only the Western Trust has a policy to accept permanent residents. Fionnuala McAndrew, Acting Chief Executive with the board, said she wanted to reassure those who took part that the board had "carefully considered" their views.
"I recognise that this process has caused anxiety for residents, their families and carers but I hope that the minister's statements and our commitment to them will provide the reassurance needed to ensure that any future changes can be managed in a way that does not cause any further concerns," she said. "There will always be a need for some level of residential care but the changing trends and desires of people must be taken into account too as we plan for the future," she said.
The SDLP's Fearghal McKinney labelled the process a "farce".
Joe McCusker, Regional Organiser of Unison, said: "They failed in their duty of care for the health and well-being of all.
"Unison will continue to challenge this process at every level, and support all Residential Homes in building and demonstrating their own vision for their future.
"It is now clear that there are now and never have been good intentions by those with responsibility and funding for care."
Mr Poots said residents would remain in their homes for as long as "they wished and so long as their needs can continue to be met there".
"I stand by that reassurance because I appreciate the value of the friendships they have forged, the close connections to family and the community, and the quality of care and an attachment to the staff," he said.
"However, because there is currently significant spare capacity in homes, I am keen to see an expanded role for them – providing respite care and given the current pressures in our hospital system, potential step-down provision following discharge from hospital.
"I have tasked my officials to explore the potential for residential facilities to serve as broader hubs for older people's services."