Edwin Poots given Southern Cross assurances

The health minister has said he has been assured by Southern Cross that it will continue to operate its care homes in NI until new owners take over.

The company runs 26 homes in Northern Ireland looking after 1,100 people.

Southern Cross is to shut down after landlords owning all 752 of its care homes across the UK said they wanted to leave the group.

Edwin Poots said he would ensure all Southern Cross residents’ needs “are met fully”.

“We have been assured by Southern Cross that the company will continue to operate its care homes during the forthcoming managed transition of ownership process,” he said.

“Any new operators brought in by landlords will have to register with, and be subject to inspection by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).”

Pauline Mullan, whose father Don is being cared for at Culmore Manor in Londonderry, said: “My concern is where are they going to put my father if Culmore Manor closes.

“I want to ask the health minister what is he doing about this. I want him to answer a question – where are they going to put him after this.”

Another man, whose relative lives in one of the company’s care homes said the news was very worrying.

“For us it’s just trying to ascertain and establish what’s going to happen now,” he said.

“What are the contingency plans by the health trust for example in terms of the future tenure of people like our relative and other people that are in there.

“Because when we go down to visit we’re certainly picking up vibes from our relative and also the discussion in the day room that there is a genuine concern.”

The Health and Social Care Board has moved to reassure people.

“At present, and from the information available, there remains every prospect that the continuity of care for residents in Northern Ireland can be maintained,” a statement from the board said.

The board said that all the organisations involved are committed to working together to promote stability in the care home sector, and to maintain the current arrangements for people living there.

Darlington-based Southern Cross and its landlords and creditors are a month into a four-month restructuring period, which was agreed in crisis talks in June.

A company statement said that the details of the restructuring were not yet settled and there was still a possibility of further changes.

It had been expected that some of the landlords would leave the group, leaving Southern Cross operating with between 250 and 400 homes in the UK, but now it appears that the group is to disappear altogether.

Jim Fitzpatrick, business editor

Southern Cross was the UK’s largest care homes operator, but its management seemed as interested in property deals as in caring for the elderly.

Its core business – providing that care – was losing millions for years.

Yet the company continued to grow by selling its care homes to landlords at big prices thanks to generous rental agreements.

Ultimately though, those rents proved too high for the core business to support.

It’s now down to the landlords to sort the financial mess out.

Landlords and health authorities have pledged that residents will be unaffected, but they face a worrying few months as new operators are sought to run the homes.