Campaigners regrouping to face fresh threat

Skeagh House
Skeagh House

SKEAGH House campaigners are regrouping and drawing up battle plans to stave off the latest potential threat to the Dromore residential home.

The victorious Skeagh House Action Committee, which led the campaign to scupper earlier closure plans as recently as 2009, is being reassembled following news from Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots that the number of state-run care homes in Northern Ireland is to be halved.

Brian Mackey opens the public meeting on the future of Skeagh House at Dromore Cathedral Hall on behalf of the Cathedral's Select Vestry.

Brian Mackey opens the public meeting on the future of Skeagh House at Dromore Cathedral Hall on behalf of the Cathedral's Select Vestry.

In a joint statement this week two of the committee’s leading members, Ulster Unionist Councillor Carol Black and SDLP representative Louis Boyle, spoke of growing concerns about the future of Skeagh House and indeed Crozier House in nearby Banbridge.

Skeagh House and Crozier House are among five care homes in the Southern Trust area; at least two are expected to close in coming years under what Mr. Poots called “a vision of a new model of care” reportedly focused on ensuring that more services are provided in the community, closer to people’s homes where possible.

The irony of Mr. Poots’ role in the 2009 campaign to save Skeagh House is not lost on Ms. Black and Mr. Boyle, who said the arguments successfully employed at the time were every bit as valid today.

“Ever since the publication of the Compton Review, Transforming Your Care: A Review of Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland, December 2011, we were aware that the home’s future was under threat,” they said.

“That review, while containing many forward-thinking proposals to reshape and improve health and social care provision in hospital and community care, did suggest that ultimately all statutory residential homes could be closed.”

Having studied the review, Mr. Boyle, himself a former director in the field of healthcare provision, said he saw no valid argument to support “such a drastic change” in care provision.

“All of the arguments which we used in 2009 in support of Skeagh House are as valid today as then,” said he and Ms. Black. “We fully support the enhancement of care in the community with the aim of enabling as many older people as possible to remain in their own homes, but there is always the need for a spectrum of care within which residential care has a key part to play. “If residential homes close, older people in the future who cannot stay in their own homes will have only the choice of a private nursing home, which, for some, is neither necessary nor appropriate.

“We note that the Minister, Mr. Poots who himself played a key role in the Save Skeagh House Campaign in 2009, has now launched a consultation process, ‘Transforming Your Care from Vision to Action’ and the community has until January 15 to respond.

“We will look more closely at the proposals; we will get the Action Committee together again and we will facilitate a meeting for members of the public, including relatives of residents in the home, to examine what is proposed and see what we in the community can do in response.”

Ms. Black added a personal pledge that she would not be sitting idly by in the face of what she described as another attack on the most vulnerable people in the community and on behalf of the committee she called on anyone who would like to get involved to contact her urgently.

The committee’s aim, she said, remained one of ensuring that Skeagh House be maintained as a residential centre of excellence for older people in the wider Dromore area.

“We recognise that in these times of stringency in the public finances the Trust has to ensure that its services are cost effective,” she said, “but it is likewise important that staffing levels are maintained at a level necessary to achieve quality care.”

Only last week the daughter of an elderly Skeagh House resident pleaded with Mr. Poots to re-think the plans. Liz Nesbitt, whose 91-year-old father is in his third year at Skeagh House, said the idea of increasing community care was not satisfactory.