Edwin Poots defends Northern Ireland care workers

Health Minister Edwin Poots has defended staff working in Northern Ireland’s nursing homes, saying the majority provide good quality care.

It follows an investigation by the NI Human Rights Commission which heard claims of abuses.

Allegations included elderly residents being admitted to hospital for dehydration because a home failed to provide enough for them to drink.

Mr Poots said a minority should not besmirch the good work of the majority.

“There’s thousands of care workers out there who are doing an excellent job and I wouldn’t want those individuals to be diminished or besmirched in any way as a result of the findings about a small number of people who aren’t providing the appropriate care,” he said.

“We really do need to be ensuring that the inspections are carried out across those areas where there are fundamental weaknesses.”

Mr Poots said many of the allegations of abuse were historic and had been addressed already.

Alarms switched off

Other allegations uncovered by the investigation included residents being told to use incontinence pads because a staff shortage meant they could not be helped to the toilet.

In some cases, alarms used to summon care staff were switched off or placed out of reach.

The commission made nine referrals to the relevant health and social care trust where there was suspected or alleged abuse of vulnerable adults.

It said it found that practices in homes were “failing to deliver many aspects of care in a human rights compliant way”.

It called on the Northern Ireland Executive to implement changes “as a matter of urgency”.

Some of the commission’s findings – contained in a report entitled ‘In Defence of Dignity’ – are based on almost 190 calls or written submissions following a public appeal for information.

It also gathered evidence directly from four unnamed nursing homes.

There are more than 250 nursing homes in Northern Ireland with around 10,500 registered places.


Most homes are privately run, but the majority of residents receive funding from health and social care trusts to help pay for their care.

In the homes it visited, the commission found staff devoted to residents, but who were working against “significant time and resource constraints”.

Two of the four homes reported that sometimes GPs were reluctant to visit a resident who was unwell.

“They would rather just send an ambulance and you are fighting with them because you do not need an ambulance,” one person interviewed is quoted telling the commission.

One person who contacted the commission complained of a 17-hour gap between serving dinner at 16:30 GMT and breakfast at 10:00 GMT.

“After the main evening meal there was no opportunity for food.”

Professor Michael O’Flaherty, head of the Human Rights Commission, said it had made a number of recommendations to the executive.

“If they are implemented they will go a long way to safeguarding the dignity of our older people in nursing homes,” he said.

An umbrella organisation, the Independent Health Care Providers, which represents many nursing home operators, said it condemned poor practice unreservedly.

It said it was “unaware” of any of the most serious complaints being related to its members’ homes.

Chief executive Hugh Mills said: “In order to further build resources and standards in care homes it will be necessary to have adequate funding.”