Care Homes Saved, But Hospital Jobs In Jeopardy

While relatives of pensioners in two Co Down residential homes have told of their relief after the facilities were granted an 11th hour reprieve, hospital workers in another part of Northern Ireland may be facing the dole.

It has emerged that up to 200 jobs could be lost in Armagh with the closure of wards at three hospitals.

The proposal has been given the go-ahead by the Southern Health Trust, although the final decision now rests with NI Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.

The plans recently unveiled by the Trust include the downscaling of St Luke’s and Longstone hospitals as well as a reduction in services offered at Mullinure.

They are part of cost-cutting measures being proposed as part of the overall Review of Public Administration.

Today, the Armagh workers will be hoping for a similar ‘U-turn’ to that just announced for Skeagh House in Dromore, which was one of two care homes earmarked for closure as part of a shake-up of services by the Southern Health and Social Services Trust.

However, the trust was forced into a dramatic change of heart after residents, their families and political representatives launched a massive campaign of opposition. Skeagh House and Slieve Roe home in Kilkeel are now to be upgraded instead.

In a statement issued last night the Trust said: “The trust has considered the strong representations from respondents opposing our original proposal to close two of the five homes in the area, specifically the view that this would significantly impact on accessibility to residential care for local communities.

“The trust is therefore proposing an alternative service model which will retain all the current statutory residential homes in the area. Our initial proposal was to close Skeagh House in Dromore and Slieve Roe in Kilkeel.

“This would enable both homes to remain open and all residents to continue to receive their care as normal.

“During the consultation process we have secured additional funding for dementia services and have obtained agreement with our commissioner that some of this funding can be used for respite in our residential homes.

“Our revised proposal will therefore see the development of each home as local centres for care of older people to include the introduction of new respite services for people with dementia,” the statement said.

However, the families of those affected by the proposals said their lives had been put under an intolerable strain during the past 18 weeks and a senior executive last night apologised for “anxiety” caused by aborted plans to close two Co Down residential homes.

Colm Donaghy, Chief Executive of the Southern Trust, said that proposals to close Skeagh House in Dromore and Slieve Roe in Kilkeel would not now go ahead, after protracted representations from campaigners.

But while supporters of the two homes celebrated, many more facilities across the Province face an uncertain future, with the potential loss of the 200 jobs lost in Armagh with the closure of wards at three hospitals.