Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots apologises for care home closures 'stress'

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Media captionEdwin Poots said it was "unacceptable" that families had been upset by the plans

The health minister has apologised "unreservedly" at Stormont for stress felt by residents of care homes earmarked for closure.

Edwin Poots also said it was "unacceptable" that families had been upset by the plans.

It was announced over the last two weeks that 18 National Health Service (NHS) care homes would close, affecting 307 residents.

Some elderly people felt they had not been properly consulted.

In a U-turn on Friday, the minister told health trusts to drop their care homes policy and said closures would be handled by the Health and Social Care Board instead.

"What happened last week fell way short of standards," Mr Poots told the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"I apologise unreservedly. The threat of any residential home closing in the next six months is gone."

'Widespread concern'

Later, the chair of the health committee, Sinn Fein's Sue Ramsey, said she would be summoning the minister in front of the committee next week to explain his role in the "fiasco".

"Clearly there is widespread concern and unease at the way in which the minister and the trusts handled the issue of residential care homes last week. It was unacceptable and unnecessary," she said.

"We need to know all of the information, including when the health minister became aware of the plans by the trusts and when he decided to act."

She said the committee would be looking at the Transforming Your Care health service review, which proposed the closure of 50% of NHS care homes in Northern Ireland.

Roy Beggs, Ulster Unionist Party MLA for East Antrim, asked "why elderly residents weren't treated better".

Mr Poots responded that the trusts "were doing what Michael McGimpsey had authorised them to do", as the UUP health minister had set them up during his tenure.

His words came after UUP leader Mike Nesbitt called for Mr Poots to resign.

Sinn Féin MLA Catriona Ruane said handling of the care homes issue was "shoddy" and accused Mr Poots of refusing to answer a question on five separate occasions.

Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice accused Mr Poots of closing care homes by "stealth" as new admissions are stopped.

In response, the health minister accused others of shoddy politics and said he never supported the closure of 100% of care homes.

The SDLP's health spokesman Conall McDevitt asked Mr Poots about the "stealth privatisation of elderly care".

The minister responded that health care "should be free at the point of delivery".

Later, Mr McDevitt said he was "deeply disappointed" at Mr Poots's words in the assembly, and added: "That our NHS is integrated with a social care system is a matter of great envy in other parts of these islands.

"The SDLP have been arguing for some time that privatisation of aspects of our health and social care services will directly undermine the values of the NHS which provides healthcare free at the point of delivery."

'Disastrous'

The health minister said changes would now happen more slowly. He promised a "reasonable approach" and said that in circumstances where a better standard of care is available elsewhere, people would be made aware of that.

He said: "It's not a matter of forcing people out, it's seeing what's available. Many people will want to stay where they are, others will have to move to nursing homes as residential care homes don't offer the necessary care."

Mr Poots apologised on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme last Thursday for the "disastrous" handling of plans to close care homes.

In the northern, western and southern health trusts, all NHS care homes were earmarked for closure.

On Friday, Mr Poots withdrew all power to implement the policy from the trusts and said it would instead be centralised at regional levels.

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