Two former Northern Ireland health ministers have moved to rubbish a suggestion that private sector care homes should be nationalised in the wake of the financial crisis at Four Seasons.
The suggestion was made by the Unite trade union’s regional officer Kevin McAdam, who criticised the role of the private sector in health and social care after news that two holding companies behind Four Seasons had gone into administration.
Four Seasons, who operate 56 homes in Northern Ireland, insist that day-to-day operations will be unaffected.
But Mr McAdam questioned whether private companies such as Four Seasons should have “any positive role to play in the provision of social care in the first place”.
He added: “The department must intervene and nationalise these nursing homes.”
But Edwin Poots and Jim Wells, both former health ministers and both DUP MLAs, said that suggestion was not feasible.
Mr Wells said: “It would bankrupt the public finances.
“If we transferred all of residential care to the public sector it would bankrupt the Department of Health.
“There are a small number of homes still in the public sector and we have found that it can be 20-30% more expensive per patient than in the private sector.”
Mr Poots expressed a similar view: “I have family who have been cared for both in the public and private sectors, and they received better care in the private sector.
“This nonsense that the public sector can do a better job is just that – it is nonsense. It is purely opportunistic to jump on to the financial problems that Four Seasons has gotten itself into to make that point.
“The system we have is not perfect, but the problem in this instance and I think in general is that the funding provided for people in care is right on the margins.”
Mr Wells added: “Perhaps the fees paid to nursing homes per patient aren’t enough to meet the costs which have risen due to things like the national living wage and pension contributions.
“I know from experience that care workers are heroic in what they do and deserve every penny but the costs are rising and that hasn’t been reflected in the fees.”