Parties urged to pull together to save 10 residential homes as hundreds of protesters gather at Stormont
Politicians should "pull together" despite the current Stormont crisis to save 10 NHS residential care homes from closure, a public rally has heard.
More than 200 care home residents, relatives and trade unionists attended the picket at Parliament Buildings yesterday to demand that their concerns be heard over the planned closure of the homes in Down, Antrim and Londonderry.
Around 20 MLAs supported the Unison-organised rally where they were lobbied by residents, several of them in wheelchairs. A public consultation period will be drawing to a close shortly on the future of some of the homes.
Initially, there were proposals to close 19 care homes run by the five health trusts, but the union claims that its two-year campaign has successfully given nine of them a reprieve.
The care homes under threat are either Chestnut Grove in north Belfast or Pine Lodge in east Belfast; William Street and Rectory Field homes in Londonderry; Westlands in Cookstown; the Roddens in Ballymoney; Slieve Roe in Kilkeel; Skeagh House, Dromore; Roxborough Houses in Moy, and Pinewood, Ballymena, which is to be turned into a rehabilitation centre.
If the proposals are adopted, they will leave Derry without any NHS care homes and Belfast with only one.
Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown sent a defiant message on the Stormont steps and said: "I say to the Minister of Health, the Regional Health Care Board and five health trusts that you are going have to get past these residents, their families and us before you close them.
"We do not care whether you are fighting with each other at the minute or not. We are saying take a look at these faces in the front row and tell them that you are not prepared to pull together as our elected politicians and safeguard their future and generations coming behind them today."
Protester Willy Annett (75) has Parkinson's disease and uses the Slieve Coe home for respite care.
He said: "It wasn't so long ago that I wouldn't have known what the inside of a home was but now myself and my wife couldn't do without it.
"I don't want to consider a future without Slieve Roe."
His wife Judith (60) is recovering from breast cancer two years ago and said she would desperately would love to get back to work but she can't as she needed to provide transport for Willy."
She added: "Slieve Roe is absolutely brilliant and Willy can go in and use it for respite and feel confident that he will get the best of care, as I do."
Margaret Henry (86) from north Belfast says her time spent in Chestnut Grove recuperating after having a major operation was superior to her time in a privately-run home which cost £600 a week.
"Chestnut Grove and the staff there put me back together. I wouldn't be here without them," she said.
There was cross-party support for the protest with MLAs attending, such as Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend, Ukip leader David McNarry, SDLP MLAs Patsy McGlone and party health spokesman Fearghal McKinney, and Sinn Fein's Maeve McLoughlin, chair of the health committee, and Oliver McMullan.