Handling of care home closures 'disastrous', says health minister
The way the potential closure of NHS residential homes in Northern Ireland has been handled has been "disastrous", Health Minister Edwin Poots has said.
He was speaking as the western trust became the latest NI trust to confirm it plans to close all its NHS homes.
The western trust defended its actions, saying it had tried to be "honest" with people during its discussions.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness criticised the anxiety the plans had caused to elderly care home residents.'Sensible policy'
Mr McGuinness and Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, re-stated their backing for the policy of caring for older people in their own homes but they hit out at the health trusts.
"Unfortunately, we have seen fear and anxiety on our television screens over the last few days and that is unacceptable," said Mr McGuinness.
The Southern trust's decision will affect 80 residents, in the Northern trust the number is 154, and in the South Eastern trust area 128.
In the Western trust there are 128 places available. A spokesperson said 73 of these beds are currently occupied.
Belfast, the largest trust area, began the process in 1990 and has since closed 10 homes.
The remaining three, Pine Lodge, Chestnut Grove and Grovetree House, will close in five years, under natural circumstances according to a spokesperson.
The three have a total of 20 residents.
Over the past decade, a majority of older people who required care in Belfast have moved to places in the private sector/independent sector.
"I think it is incumbent on the department to get a grip on what is happening within the trust and make it clear that this is going to be dealt with in a very sensitive way to ensure that we meet the needs of our older generation."
Mr Robinson said moving around was "not the kind of thing you want to be doing at any stage of your life least of all when you are in your 80s or your 90s".
"That has to be handled very carefully and very sensibly," he said.
"I think the policy, which was to approximately reduce by half the number of care homes over the next five years, was a sensible enough policy.
"I'm not quite sure how any trust can justify the closure of their homes and I think they need to seriously look at that again."
Meanwhile, two DUP politicians have launched a petition to save a care home in their own constituency from closure.
Gregory Campbell, MP for East Londonderry, and his party colleague George Robinson have joined councillors in Limavady in a campaign to keep Thackeray Place care home open.Apology
The home is one of four NHS facilities earmarked for closure under the western trust's plans.
The others are Rectory Field and William Street homes, both in Londonderry, and Greenfield in Strabane, County Tyrone.
The southern and the northern trusts have already announced the potential closure of all their NHS residential care homes.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Poots said: "I would be very surprised if all of the homes in all of the trusts closed."
He added: "The handling of this has been disastrous and I accept that. I'm very disappointed in the way this has been managed.
"I want to apologise to those elderly people who have been distressed as a result of this."
However, the director of older people's services in the Western Health Trust, Alan Corry-Finn, has defended the way in which people were informed of its proposals.'Sensitively'
He said his staff were simply trying to keep people informed.
"We tried to break the news about the proposals as sensitively as we could," Mr Corry-Finn told the BBC.
"No-one is ever going to be happy to hear that sort of news but we've been honest with people."
The director added: "There has been a lot of speculation about things, decisions taken. There is no decision other than to go to consultation."
The western trust's proposals were revealed at a public meeting of the trust's board on Thursday.
On Wednesday night, officials from the trust briefed residents and their families at two of the homes - William Street and Greenfield.