LISGAREL care home in Larne could still face the axe, despite Health Minister Edwin Poots being forced into an embarrassing climbdown over the highly controversial changes to residential care services in Northern Ireland.
As reported in the Larne Times last week, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust revealed plans to close all nine of its state-run residential homes, as part of sweeping reforms of elderly care provision. Two other trusts subsequently announced similar plans.
But the proposals caused a huge public outcry, leading Mr Poots to instruct all five health trusts to drop the contentious plans.
Announcing a change in the policy on Friday, the Minister said it was “unacceptable” that older people were suffering distress over the proposals to close homes. He has withdrawn all power to implement the policy from the trusts, and the process will now be centralised at a regional level.
The change means that the Minister and his officials will revert back to a 50 per cent closure policy, rather than the 100 per cent closure policy some of the trusts had announced.
But Stephanie Greenwood, Northern health branch secretary of public sector trade union UNISON, has told the Times that while she welcomed the Minister’s decision, she feared it was “only a reprieve” for elderly people living in facilities such as Lisgarel.
She added: “I spoke to the Minister on Friday and he said the whole process had been very badly handled by the trusts, and that is why he decided to pull the plug on it.
“But he also told me that care homes would still be in danger of closing if the number of residents at a facility dropped into single figures.
“So while they may be reverting back to the original closure policy of 50 per cent, the current embargo on new long term admissions to residential care homes means there will be a natural decline of the remaining facilities until they are no longer sustainable.”
Stephanie added that elderly residents at facilities such as Lisgarel still feel like there is “a dark cloud hanging over their heads”.
“There was an initial relief when the announcement was made on Friday, but in the cold light of day residents are still feeling very worried about the future of these care homes,” she added.
In terms of staff, Stephanie said UNISON has been told there will be no compulsory redundancies should any of the care homes close, and that staff would be “redeployed”.
UNISON is now set to host a series of public meetings throughout the province, and Stephanie has urged local people to attend the upcoming meeting at Larne Leisure Centre on Wednesday, May 29 at 7pm.
She added: “We are calling on the public to lobby MLAs and we will explain how to do this effectively at our public meetings.
“We are also calling on the Minister and trust chief executives to stop balancing spreadsheets and reinvest in services that have been so well provided within the NHS.
“Look at the reality they face and the backlash they will face from the public if they are foolish enough to continue moving services to the private sector.
“We believe in an NHS from the cradle to the grave.”