Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The New Strategic Direction and Suffolk County Council Care Homes

It's been a few days since I've written anything. I have sent off lots of emails and had little response.  It has become abundantly clear that those handy links on websites where you can send off an email at the click of a mouse are simply a form of distraction, a palliative to sooth the fevered brow of the desk bound (and not particularly active) activist. I have become disheartened. But then, last night on the local news there was a report about Suffolk Council which has sent me into a frenzy again.

The Council has announced plans to review the operation of the sixteen care homes that it owns throughout Suffolk (shouldn't that be, the sixteen homes that the people of Suffolk own?). The council is going to undertake a process of consultation with care home residents, their families and staff to consider three options. These are:
  1. Closing the homes and buying in services from the private sector
  2. Selling off all the homes as going concerns
  3. Cosing six homes and trying to sell off the remaining ten.
So, The council wants to either sell or close the sixteen homes that it currently owns. It has not considered the possibility of these homes remaining in council ownership and this option does not feature as part of the consultation. Three weeks ago the council committed to consult with the people of Suffok over its New Strategic Direction and to do so before moving forward to implementation. The outcome of this process was supposed to be presented at the next full meeting of the council on the 3rd of December. The council will no doubt argue that the future of it's care homes is currently undergoing a process of consulation and not implementation. However, by excluding the option for these care home to remain in council ownership from the consultation  a decision has already been made at council level to pursue the New Strategic Direction irrespective of the outcome of the meeting on December 3rd.

When the news first broke about the NSD it was suggested that the so called 'early adopter' services would be children's centres, libraries, parks and youth clubs. Bad enough, but three weeks in and the future for Suffolk Council's care homes and their elderly residents is uncertain.

The decision to move from ones' own home to a residential setting is rarely an easy one. It means giving up not only bricks and mortar and the familiarity of one's own routines and habits but also of the notion of being independent, master or mistress of one's own destiny. It requires a huge adjustment- often at a time when life has become particularly difficult- perhaps due to ill health, increasing fraility or bereavement. It is at these points in life that we most need to cleave to our routines and the people that we know best, to gain comfort and ballast from what is most familiar to us. The positive side to a move into a care home (for some people it is simply the only option, but others make an active choice to move)  is that a new home can be created, a place of safety, a seeming last resort, can become much more than that. But it takes time, and it takes trust, and it means building relationships both with other residents and with care home staff.

Today elderly, vulnerable residents throughout Suffolk, who have already made the difficult transition to a care home will again be faced with uncertainty. They will no longer have the security of knowing that the friendships that they have developed and the relationships of trust built up with care staff will continue. They have no way of knowing where they will be living a few months hence and who will be caring for them. As for the staff of these care homes, they will be expected to continue care for others, in the knowledge that they too face an uncertain future. I know, having been a nurse for many years, how difficult it can be to continue caring when you feel that you yourself are not cared for.

I believe this situation, created by Suffolk Council, in advance of next week's spending review, simply as the next step in an ideologically driven master plan, is a disgrace. Irrespective of the outcome of the consultation today in Suffolk it  will already be causing people to feel fear, anxiety, apprehension and distress. The people who have voted for this should hang their heads in shame. What sort of Big Society are we engineering here in Suffolk?

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