Poots sorry for care home closure distress

Health Minister Edwin Poots responds in Stormont
Health Minister Edwin Poots responds in Stormont

Health Minister Edwin Poots has apologised again to elderly people for distress caused over the proposed closure of residential homes.

The Democratic Unionist said the process had been stopped and there would be no threat over the next six months.

He has faced Ulster Unionist calls for his resignation over his handling of the affair - ordering health trusts to halt the care cuts in what critics branded a U-turn.

Mr Poots told the Assembly: “I have no problem apologising to our elderly population for the distress that was caused.

“The current process has been stopped so the current threat of any residential home being closed in the course of the next six months is gone.”

Mr Poots instructed all five health and social care trusts, which run services, to drop contentious plans to close State-run residential homes. He said he never supported the proposals in the first place.

“This was never my policy, this was never my proposal,” he added.

Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin said: “This was a mess and did completely disregard the rights of the elderly population.”

The minister said a process had begun to identify facilities needed in the future to provide the best possible care.

“We will talk very caringly with the elderly population. It is not a case of forcing people into facilities, it is a matter of people identifying what is available to them,” he added.

He said many elderly would see out their days in publicly-owned care homes and insisted older people would not have to pay for their care.

“Health is something that should be free on point of need for those who need it, it is a universal concept,” he added.

“I will use the private sector when they can provide good quality services for all the public and I make no apology for that.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Joanne Dobson said an elderly resident of a home in Banbridge, Co Down, told her he felt like a discarded piece of scrap.

The Health Minister said his Ulster Unionist predecessor Michael McGimpsey had been in post when a number of residential homes were closed.

Unison union regional secretary Patricia McKeown accused the minister of fighting a war of attrition against the elderly.

“It will be implemented more slowly and we will witness the closure of one home at a time, as in the past. The doors will be closed to new admissions,” she claimed.

“The remaining residents will see out their days as a dwindling community or their relatives will be forced to move them out. This is a war of attrition against older people.”