Suffolk: Fears for elderly as care homes decision examined

FRAIL elderly people who do not suffer from dementia could be left in limbo if the county council goes ahead with transferring its residential homes to private operator Care UK.

That is the warning from public sector union UNISON as the county’s scrutiny committee reviewed the decision of the cabinet to approve the transfer.

The scrutiny committee decided not to send the decision back to the county council’s cabinet after deciding that senior councillors had all the information they needed.

However UNISON, which represents many of the care workers employed in the homes, has expressed concern that the emphasis on dementia care could leave other frail elderly at risk.

A union official said: “The new homes that Care UK are planning to build are geared for dementia care. Up to 80% of residents are expected to suffer from dementia.

“Existing residents will be offered places, but what about the frail elderly in the future? The council is saying that there will be other accommodation on offer – but these are being cut back as well.”

The official said that with cutbacks to support on offer to the frail elderly, there was a real danger that an increasing number of frail people could be left on their own and facing an increasingly lonely existence.

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These comments were backed up by Labour leader Sandy Martin, who led the call-in bid.

He said: “If you look at the numbers involved, if these plans go through there would be more spaces for dementia cases, but the number of packages on offer to the county council would fall.”

Only 370 of the 680 rooms on offer at the new Care UK homes would be for county council-funded residents – at present the county funds 476 residents in 526 rooms in its own care homes.

County councillor with responsibility for adult care Colin Noble said every current resident of council residential homes would be offered a place in a Care UK home.

The debate was over what kind of accommodation should be offered in the future with a much higher number of older people needing different levels of care.

He pointed out that the number places in council-run care homes was only a small percentage of the total number of those supported in the county – most of the 2,300 council-funded places were in private care homes.

During yesterday’s scrutiny meeting, Mr Martin said there had not been enough consideration about the financial aspects of the decision to transfer care homes.

However Mr Noble replied: “There was a 40-page report. Over the last two years it has been debated many times with about 300 pages of reports – not to mention the 500-page contract that was drawn up with Care UK.

“I don’t think there was any shortage of information before the decision was made!”

Daphne Savage from Age UK Suffolk said that people were increasingly keen to stay in their own homes with support rather than moving into care homes if they were not suffering from dementia.

However it was vital that there was enough support for people living in their own homes.

She said: “There is a move towards giving people the ability to buy their own care packages, but there is a need to ensure there is enough support on offer.

“We hear of people who are having to cut back on their attendance at day centres because they didn’t realise how expensive the sessions are and once they are controlling their own budget they find they can only afford fewer sessions.

“While most people do want to spend longer in their own homes, the support must be available and that is the challenge that we are facing as the government talks about reducing spending.”

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