Eighteen Northern Ireland care homes get reprieve
All 18 NHS care homes in Northern Ireland that were earmarked for closure are to remain open while residents want to stay in them.
Health Minister Edwin Poots confirmed that the homes would stay open in a letter to the Stormont health committee seen by the BBC.
The closures had been announced last year as part of the Transforming Your Care health review.
It is not clear if the homes will be allowed to take on new admissions.
Mr Poots visited several care homes in the Northern and Western Trust areas on Wednesday.
The BBC understands that he told residents that they would not be moved while they wanted to remain there, and their needs could be met.'Change focus'
Mr Poots told the BBC: "It was very clear to us that the residents wish to stay in the facilities... and we wanted to ensure that, that being the case, we make good utilisation of the facilities.
"I wanted to change the focus to utilisation as opposed to rationalisation."
In his letter to Maeve McLaughlin, chair of the Stormont health committee, Mr Poots said: "I am writing to the committee to advise that it is my intention to move quickly to reassure permanent residents within those homes.
"I am clear that existing residents will be allowed to remain in their home for as long as they wish and so long as their needs can continue to be met there."
It followed similar moves by the Northern and Southern health trusts, which announced plans to close their homes.
The news sparked outcry from residents and their families, prompting a consultation process that ended in March.
Ms McLaughlin said the minister needed to clarify whether the admissions policy would be changed.
She told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster on Thursday: "Where does it actually leave us if we don't review the admissions policy and allow trusts to admit people to these homes?
"The cynic in me says that if the admissions policy doesn't change, then what has changed in terms of the future of residential care?"
Josie McCann, whose 100-year-old mother is a resident at Thackeray Place, Limavady, said it was "fantastic news".Applause
She said she was visiting her mother on Wednesday when she noticed "a buzz" about the home and was told that Mr Poots was visiting to make an announcement.
She said when he said the care home was staying open: "Everybody broke out clapping. All the residents were gathered in the room at the time."
She said she was happy her mother was "going to stay here for the rest of her days. That worry's not hanging over me that she'll be moved or anything".
Josie also said the staff were "really ecstatic with joy because some of them were wondering if they should look for jobs elsewhere".
Margaret Gilbert, who was heavily involved in the battle to keep Westlands Home in Cookstown open, said it was "brilliant" news.
"I'm just so, so pleased for the residents," she said.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said Mr Poots was keen to hear the views and experiences of residents and their families.
BBC Northern Ireland's health correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly said: "The consultation on the future of care homes ended in March with the minister expected to receive a full analysis from the board within weeks.
"What's still not clear is whether any of these homes will take any new admissions - which guarantees the long-term future of the care home."