Staff at Clonmore House care home in Rathcoole have reacted with cautious optimism to news that the home’s current residents will not be forced to leave after Health Minister Edwin Poots backtracked on closure plans.
The proposed closures, made under the Transforming Your Care initiative, would have seen 18 residential care homes in the Northern and Western Health Trust areas close.
The plans had led to condemnation and protests from the elderly residents’ families, who were concerned at the stress being forced to leave their homes would cause their relatives.
In a letter to the Chair of Stormont’s Health Committee, Mr Poots wrote: “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.”
However, the letter also highlighted that investigations would be launched into spare capacity in care homes, as well as the possibility of using homes as ‘hubs‘ for older people’s services. The letter stated that the HSC should ‘demonstrate to older people that new alternatives to statutory homes are a better option for them.’
A Clonmore House care assistant, who did not wish to be named, reacted cautiously to the news. She told The Times: “If what we have heard is true then we are absolutely delighted for the residents and ourselves. We were told about a year ago that it was closing, so it’s fantastic to hear that we will remain open. However, no-one has come in to tell staff and residents or their families, we just heard it on the radio. We haven’t had any official confirmation so we won’t believe it until someone from the Board comes in and tells us. I’m sceptical at the minute-until someone from the Board comes in to confirm it it could change.”
Importantly, while Mr Poots has guaranteed the right of existing residents to remain in their care homes, he has not announced that the homes will be open to new admissions. This has led to speculation that the Minister is simply delaying closures until existing residents leave.
Ulster Unionist Party Health Spokesperson Roy Beggs MLA commented:“I am pleased that the Minister carried out a U-turn and listened to the residents of Clonmore, Joymount (Carrick) and Lisgarel (Larne) to the degree that existing residents will be protected. This announcement that existing residents will not be evicted will come as great relief to residents, their families and the staff. The work of all the local support groups that have campaigned so hard for these homes should be acknowledged.
“The situation should never have developed in the first place. The closure announcement by each of the Health Trusts was disgraceful. Elderly and vulnerable residents have been unnecessarily traumatised.
“The Northern HSCT has a non-admissions policy preventing new permanent residents being accepted in their residential care homes such as Clonmore, Joymount and Lisgarel. Whilst existing residents have been given a degree of protection by the Minister’s statement, the long term future of residential care homes will remain in doubt unless new residents are admitted.
“A series of questions must be posed. Why has the Minister allowed residents of statutory care homes to feel uncertain about their future for so long? Why has he wasted health resources in the recent consultation into the criteria which would determine the future of individual homes? Why has the decision been taken only now to protect existing residents?”
“Unfortunately I also have to seriously question the political choreography of how this latest decision was made. I hope the fact that Northern Ireland is exactly five weeks out from major elections is only a coincidence.”