Health chief backs Western trust's care closure plan
HSCB chief executive John Compton has defended the Western trust's proposal to close care homes for the elderly.
Rectory Field and William Street in Londonderry, Greenfield in Strabane and Thackeray Place in Limavady may shut.
Between them, the homes have 73 residents, although there is room for almost double that. And there are about 100 staff.
The trust's board will discuss the plan on Thursday but it insists no final decision has been made.
The move follows last week's announcements by the Northern and Southern trusts, who are also proposing closure of the homes they run.
These changes come under a programme called Transforming Your Care, which was spearheaded by Mr Compton.
He told the BBC he could "understand how individuals are upset and concerned and worried".
"But I think it's important to put it in context, this is a consultation about a proposed change," he said.
"There will be extensive discussion with families and individuals about the nature of the change and how the change should impact on individual family members and on the relatives of those families. That is a consultation, it's not a decision."
Mr Compton said that there had been extensive consultation over the last 18 months across Northern Ireland.
"That was clearly put out to the Northern Ireland public that we should change how we provide care through residential homes and we should reduce the number of homes that we've had.
"When we talked about that and consulted on it, we did that extensively, we had very, very substantial agreement that that was the right direction."
Every household in Northern Ireland received a leaflet regarding the Transforming Your Care programme and Mr Compton said there were more than 20 public meetings held across Northern Ireland and various arrangements were in place to allow the public to contact the team behind it.
"It was made quite clear that there would be a change. I think the exact wording was that at least 50% of the existing residential care in Northern Ireland would close.
"There are 58 facilities across the whole of NI and the proposals as are currently emerging would suggest about a 40% total closure across all of those facilities so we're staying in line with the issue that was presented."
Residential care homes exist for people with learning disabilities and people who have mental health problems in addition to those that care for the elderly.
Responding to claims that the closures were about privatisation and profit the chief executive said such a view was "completely inaccurate".
"This is not about spending less money on people who are older, it's about spending more money, the choice is about how to spend it.
"The sorts of alternatives that will be talked about will be sheltered and supportive housing arrangements and we have a number of those examples right across the province. We know that across NI in the next three to five years there will be just under 500 housing with care facilities opening."