The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Claire Keatinge, has said that the views of residents must be at the centre of any proposed closure of statutory residential homes.

Speaking after the publication of her response to the "Making Choices" consultation, which considers how the accommodation needs of current and future older people can be met, the Commissioner said:

"The number of older people in Northern Ireland is set to increase by almost 65% in the next thirty years, with more and more people living longer and healthier lives. As this population expands, it is essential that government is equipped to deal with the needs of an ageing population, and that appropriate residential care settings are available to those who want or need them.

"Much has been learned from last year, after the proposed closure of over 50% of statutory residential homes. The views of those most directly affected, including current residents of statutory homes, their families and staff, must be given due prominence in the consultation process. This process must translate into good practice in clear decisions about which homes are to close and ensure that the care needs and opinions of older people are central to any decisions made.

"It is essential that the process is centred around those whose lives will be directly affected by the proposed changes, and that a comparable, if not better, level of care than they have been receiving is provided.

"It also must be understood that the reason for change on this occasion is not a change of needs for older people, but a proposed change in government policy. Residents must not be pawns in the endgame of changing services for older people.

"Older people, now and in the future, must be assured that there will always be sufficient capacity of residential care available to meet the needs of those who require it. I hope that this consultation will lead to a new set of guidelines which put people at the heart of planning for the future, and which respond to the changing needs of an ageing population."