The Department of Health's decision to reverse its stance on paying for nursing home care expenses has been praised by the NI commissioner for older people.
Eddie Lynch, the commissioner, was responding to a judgment rendered by Mr. Justice Scoffield of the High Court.
The judge ruled that the department had not adequately taken into account how it would affect elderly people who might have to use their life savings to pay for medical expenses.
He claimed that it had committed a "plain dereliction of duty.".
For Robin McMinnis, the commissioner, Mr. Lynch, requested a judicial review.
The quadriplegic 75-year-old has been paying for his own care while residing in a Belfast nursing home. He has complex medical needs.
According to the Continuing Healthcare Policy, a person's needs are evaluated to determine whether they can be met in a hospital for free or whether they require social care, which could result in costs.
The judicial review brought to light the fact that each health trust has its own set of criteria and thresholds that must be met before someone is required to pay for their care.
All senior citizens with assets worth more than £23,250 are required to contribute to their social care. .
People are asked: "Can your care needs be met properly in any other setting other than a hospital?" under a change to the policy that was introduced in February 2021.
Others who claim they cannot go to a nursing home instead have their care paid for while in the hospital, while those who are placed in a nursing home are required to pay.
The judge ordered the Belfast Trust to reevaluate Mr. McMinnis' application after ruling that the funding had been unfairly denied.
He added that he also advocated "to overturn the department's decision to adopt the 2021 policy.".
In response to the verdict, Mr. Lynch expressed his happiness for Mr. McMinnis.
He added, "This is also a win for the numerous senior citizens who have contacted my office over the past several years regarding concerns with continuing healthcare assessments, all of whom will now be entitled to receive the fair assessment they deserve.
"I am also relieved that the judge has invalidated the 2021 policy, highlighting in particular the failure to adequately consider the negative effects of such a policy on older people. I view this as a monumental victory, not least because Northern Ireland has no laws prohibiting age discrimination. .
"This sends a very clear message that policies that negatively affect senior citizens will not be tolerated.
"The 2021 policy has been eliminated, and it is now the responsibility of the Department of Health to provide guidance on how to apply the 2010 policy and to work urgently with the trusts to establish a legal procedure that will fairly assess an older person's needs. .
"This will guarantee that those who have legitimate healthcare needs get the free care to which they are legally entitled and which is free for the rest of us. ".
According to Mr. McMinnis, the past six years had been "a long journey for me personally with many setbacks.". .
Knowing that many others had been rejected or were not aware of the continuing healthcare policy, he continued, "It has been a matter of principle for me.".
Before deciding on its next course of action, the department stated that it "will be considering the judgment."