Northern Ireland

Fresh consultation on care homes closure plans

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Media captionFionnuala McAndrew, Director of Social Care and Children, said they will work with all individuals concerned

A fresh consultation will take place on the proposed closure of NHS residential care homes in Northern Ireland.

The Health and Social Care Board acknowledged there were failings in how the issue was handled, but said future changes would be approached sensitively.

Care homes in the northern, southern and western trust areas were earmarked for closure in April.

In May, the health minister ordered trusts to suspend consultation plans.

The move followed a public outcry, with families and residents angry about how the matter was being handled.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Poots said it would be a time for people to come first, not buildings.

"I welcome the fact that that is how things are going to be done in the future," he said.

"It doesn't mean that residential care homes won't close in some locations across Northern Ireland.

"What it does mean is that each person will be treated as an individual, that their views will be listened to, they'll be respected and that will be core to this, that this will be about the individual not about the facility."

The health union, Unison, said while residential homes failed to accept any long-term residents, within five years there would not be enough people to justify keeping them open.

In October, the health board is to consult about what criteria should be used to assess a home's future.

The director of Social Care and Children, Fionnuala McAndrew, said the process would be more transparent.

"Nobody would be saying that older people will be forced to leave their home," she said.

"Our experience is that when you work with families, you show people alternatives.

"We take our time to ensure that people are satisfied and ready for the change, that that can be done successfully."

Any major changes, including proposed closures, will require a second consultation.

While this time the board's response is more measured, the BBC understands its intention remains the same - to eventually close most of Northern Ireland's care homes.

That means more homes are likely to close in the next three to five years than remain open.

In May, the commissioner for older people criticised the lack of consultation with residents in NHS residential care homes facing closure.

Image caption Letty Doherty, 99, is a resident of one of the homes proposed for closure

Claire Keatinge described the anguish expressed in the media and to her office by elderly residents and their families as "very serious".

"The Health and Social Care Board, I understand they did give a commitment that nobody will be forced to leave a statutory residential care home," she said.

"They need to stand over that and they need to show people what the alternatives are if a home is closing, they need to show that the alternative is better.

"The people in care homes need to be absolutely sure that they understand what their choices are and if their choice is to remain in the care home, they need to be able to express that clearly."

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