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'Worse to come' for nursing homes, union chief warns

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing, has warned of further care home closures
Seanín Graham

THE crisis facing the private care home sector is set to escalate with more closures due to nursing shortages, a trade union chief has warned.

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing, was speaking following the shock news that seven homes run by the Fours Seasons group are to shut, affecting 254 vulnerable patients and almost 400 staff.

There are than more than 260 private homes in Northern Ireland offering 12,000 beds - with the majority of places funded by the NHS.

Ms Smyth said the Four Seasons decision will "only be the first of many" due a major problem in recruiting registered nurses to the private sector.

"We have repeatedly warned of the nursing shortages in Northern Ireland and despite the effects made by the independent sector to employ staff, they cannot retain them as they are constantly recruited by health trusts... many new nursing graduates are also choosing to go outside Northern Ireland due to the lack of permanent contracts here.

"The patients being cared for in these homes have severe, complex needs and need round-the-clock care. There has been no planning for this sector in terms of its nursing workforce requirements and we fear there is worse to come. Vulnerable patients will suffer."

Four Seasons is the largest private provider of homes in the north, owning around 3,000 beds in 70 facilities. It described the closures as a "difficult decision" but said they were "operating at a loss".

Following public outcry over the move, health minister Simon Hamilton announced the suspension of proposals to close 10 NHS homes across the north - a controversial plan that went out to consultation earlier this year.

Of the more than 170 residents in these homes, around 100 are receiving temporary and rehabilitation care packages following discharges from hospital.

The daughter of one 87-year-old resident affected by the Four Seasons closure said they had been left "in limbo".

"You're taking them somewhere out of everything they've ever known, at a very vulnerable age, when they're vulnerable in their health and everything," said Ruth Evans, who lives in Enniskillen but whose mother had been placed in a home in Banbridge following a serious stroke.

"I fear dreadfully of the impact on her health, long-term, and of the other residents as well."

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