Edwin Poots tells trusts to drop care homes closure policy
Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots has done a U-turn on the policy of closing residential care homes.
He has told representatives of all the Northern Ireland health trusts to drop their current closure policy.
He has withdrawn all power to implement the policy from the trusts and said that the process would be centralised at a regional level.
Mr Poots said it was "unacceptable" older people were suffering distress over the proposals to close homes.
The minister said he had serious concerns about engagement with individuals and families over the proposed closures.'Upset and alarmed'
Speaking after a meeting at the Southern trust headquarters in Craigavon, County Armagh, Mr Poots said: "It is unacceptable that any older person feels distressed because of proposals for change. Older people and their families have been left upset and alarmed.
According to the minister this is not a U-turn on government policy but instead a U-turn on how the policy is implemented.
Whatever the spin, it is a significant move demonstrating that sometimes the public voice can overcome in the end.
The change means that the minister and his officials will revert back to a 50% closure policy not the 100% closure policy some of the health trusts had announced.
The minister told those who lead elderly care that they would no longer have the power to implement residential care policy. Instead that would be taken at board level.
While this was all extremely embarrassing for the health trusts, it is a move designed to put Edwin Poots back in control.
Leaving the meeting, the minister said his position was safe.
"That should never be the by-product of a process which is all about improving the lives of older people and giving them more control. This is why we will have a fresh start.
"This is about listening to our older people and their families and our own staff. I have said I want genuine communication with every person affected and every individual to be treated with sensitivity and dignity.
"I expect a process which not only identifies the needs of each individual affected by proposed changes, but also understands the wishes of every single individual and their families. I expect these wishes to be respected, and this extends to all staff.
"I want to send out a clear message to older people that there will be genuine consultation and their views will be heard. No one's care will be put in jeopardy."Proper consultation
As part of the Transforming Your Care policy 50% of care homes were due to close although some health trusts had announced that they would close all their homes.
On Thursday, the Western trust said that its intention was to close four NHS residential care homes and defended its actions, saying it had tried to be honest with people during its discussions.
The Southern and the Northern trusts had already announced the potential closure of all their NHS residential care homes.
A number of elderly people were left distressed and felt they had not been consulted properly about the changes.
Mr Poots has said the policy has not changed but that the implementation of the policy has.
Sue Ramsay, chair of the Stormont health committee said she was glad that "common sense had prevailed".
"This showed clearly that the minister was not informed and you need a hands on approach and it needs to come directly from the department to the board and be implemented by the trust.
"This has been the first big test of Transforming Your Care and it seems the department has failed," she said.