Call me cynical, or whatever you like, but I suspect the recent grand announcement from the Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots regarding the state run residential care homes to be little more than a carefully choreographed charade in advance of the upcoming elections this May.
On April 17th it was announced that eighteen NHS care homes earmarked for closure are to remain open. In a letter from Mr Poots to the Chair of the Stormont Health Committee he said 'Existing residents will be allowed to remain in their home for as long as they wish and so long as their needs can continue to be met there" When questioned during a televised interview as to whether or not there would be further admissions Edwin Poots refused to give a straight answer.
It would seem that straight answers and actions have now been replaced with managed declines for political expediency, a more surreptitious way of removing front-line services. Considering that Peter Robinson & Martin McGuinness' OFMDFM office recently tried to appeal against having to provide information under – freedom of information of legislation as they might lose votes we don't know what depths these self preservationists will go to, to protect themselves.
In an interview with the BBC Stephanie Greenwood of the Unison (trade union group) said if homes were not taking on new residents, their long-term future was in doubt.
Ms Greenwood also told Good Morning Ulster: "I asked the minister if this wasn't an election tactic, why could he not lift the non-admission policy now? He said he had gone back to the board and asked them to do work in that area, and hopefully there would be a result around June."
So ask yourself why the Health Minister refused to give a straight answer to a direct question?
Here's the thing.
This scenario reminds me of the closure of the Foyleville care home here in Derry in 2010 when the five remaining elderly residents were subject to eviction or as was said at the time 'moved to alternative accommodation.'
In the run up to the closure of Foyleville the North West Health and Social Care Trust said they would reassess the viability of the home annually but that they would be taking no new admissions. This was described by campaigners as a managed decline (deliberate run down) which is a more palatable way of justifying closure through the lack of numbers and the deteriorating condition of the facility in question. A similar tactic is currently being used in school closures with again the same reasons being used to justify closure.
When you look at a cross spectrum of research on 'successful ageing' you find similar threads of thought on the factors that have a positive impact on people in the later stages of their lives.
What featured prominently within the research I read was the need for 'increased soal contact/activity/support.' What I witnessed in Foyleville was the deliberate scaling back of services precipitating the closure of the home.
This increased social isolation had a dramatic impact on the residents and despite searching through a broad swathe of resources I cannot find one that states that increased social isolation positively contributes to successful ageing or quality of life.
The announcement to close Foyleville came just over two weeks after the 2010 Westminster election. I wonder if in June, just after the impending elections will we hear of a plan to close the care homes, or even confirmation that no new admissions will be allowed.
In the case of Foyleville it was also suggested that the decision to finally close the the care home followed a consultation with staff members, the residents and their families which was difficult to comprehend given the attendance of the family members at the nightly pickets that followed the announcement.
I was with the family who led the campaign when they were informed of the decision to close the care home, the news came as a shock to them. As we left the home that day one elderly gentleman called the couple to ask them if he was still OK to stay in his home? The home he had known for over twenty years. I can still see that elderly man's face as that day I witnessed first hand the impact the savage cuts were having and will continue to have on the most vulnerable in our society.
I hope my analysis of this situation will be proved wrong and the care homes will remain open, but sadly, the removal of much needed services is becoming all too familiar with each blow as cruel as the last, each blow seemingly directed towards our most vulnerable.
|Hubert Humphrey & Martin Luther King Jnr|
American politician Hubert Humphrey once said 'the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.' If you pardon his use of the term handicapped, we should be asking would our politicians pass the test in my opinion based upon their performance, I very much doubt it!