Care Home Closures

Part of Question for Urgent Oral Answer — Health, Social Services and Public Safety – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 30th November 2015.

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Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP 3:30 pm, 30th November 2015

Given the fact that it is an incredibly serious issue that affects 254 residents and their families, and, indeed, over 300 staff, it is disappointing that the Member, in his opening comments, chose to make a baseless political attack on me. It is absolutely disgraceful that, on such an important issue, the Member seeks to do that without any justification whatsoever.

I am aware that there is a range of issues facing the sector. The Member mentioned some of them around staffing issues and a shortage of nurses, which is something that that sector, all sectors in health and social care, and, indeed, all parts of the United Kingdom and far beyond, are facing. I am aware that there are concerns expressed by the sector about the impact, for example, of a national living wage, which has not been implemented yet and therefore had no direct bearing on this set of circumstances.

I was and am aware of the issues pertaining to this particular provider. That is why pointing the finger of blame in my direction, as the Member has sought to do, is completely baseless. A recent media report highlighted the fact that Four Seasons is a particularly indebted company, which, according to a recent report in 'The Guardian', is paying more than £50 million a year in interest on debts of £500 million. Paying over 10% on your debts is an incredibly high rate for any firm and makes it very difficult for a company of any size to deal with, even the biggest care provider in the UK. Particular issues with the company's finances and debt led it to take this decision.

My job is to work with Four Seasons as best I can and ensure that the whole health and social care family, as I outlined, works with the company to minimise the disruption that will be faced by the 254 residents and get them appropriate new accommodation as close to their current location as possible. I will make sure that the trusts, the board and the regulator all work together and closely with Four Seasons to make sure that what is a very difficult period of uncertainty and anxiety for those residents is not made any more difficult.