Closure news sees fight for Skeagh House resume

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The remnants of Dromore’s Skeagh House Action Committee are to press the health minister for fresh community consultation before anything is done with the care home.

The decision follows news that healthcare provider Four Seasons is to close seven of its private facilities, including Donaghcloney Care Home, an announcement that moved Stormont Health Minister Simon Hamilton to put on hold consultation on closure proposals for 10 state-run homes.

Standing vacant since a landslip forced its evacuation, Skeagh House is among those slated for permanent closure, but Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Dondaldson said last week the Four Seasons news underlined the need for Skeagh House to re-open. If there was any question-mark over private sector viability, he said, it begged a re-think on long-term statutory provision.

Backing Mr Donaldson this week, Dromore man Louis Boyle, a key figure in the last battle to save Skeagh House, said he fully endorsed the MP’s comments.

Moreover, he said, the Skeagh House Action Committee had long since warned the health authorities of the perils of relying entirely on private provision.

“When the Skeagh House Action Committee prepared its submission in 2009 against the closure of the home in Dromore,” he said, “one of the issues we raised was the risk of the state putting all its reliance on the private sector for the provision of residential and nursing home care.

“The private sector is motivated primarily by profit and if the going gets tough they can simply withdraw from the market, walk away and leave the responsibility back with the statutory sector.”

Mr Boyle said it had been known for some time that Four Seasons had been facing financial difficulties, though the provider is on record as saying its closure announcement was nothing to do with profits, but rather a deficit between the cost of care provision and the amount paid in fees.

The closure of Four Seasons’ Donaghcloney home, said Mr Boyle, would “seriously reduce” the choice available to older people in the wider Dromore area, and the closure of the company’s Oakridge Care Home in Ballynahinch, where a state-run home of similar design to Skeagh House was closed some years ago despite a concerted local campaign, was, again, a prime example of the inadvisability of relying on private provision.

It has since been announced, of course, that the Spa Nursing Home Group has expressed an interest in buying the Oakridge home.

Mr Boyle added: “In relation to Skeagh House I have been in contact with other members of the former group and am proposing to write to the Trust requesting that the decision to close Skeagh is put on hold as with other homes on the request of the Minister.

“I will be inviting our MP to join us in making this request.

“At some stage the engineering issue with Skeagh will be sorted out and at the very least we would want nothing to happen in relation to the home and the site until there is full consultation with the community.”