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Council could close its five remaining care homes
A COUNCIL looks set for a battle over its remaining care homes after it announced plans for a consultation which could see them close.
Eighty three elderly people are cared for at the five homes operated by Durham County Council – Cheveley House, in Belmont; Feryemount, in Ferryhill; Grampian House, in Peterlee; Mendip House, in Chester-le-Street and Newtown House, in Stanhope. The oldest resident is 100 years old.
The homes also employ 131 permanent staff and 43 temporary staff. Cheveley House was recently vacated after residents were moved into alternative accommodation due to a leaking roof and serious structural damage to the building.
A report to be considered by councillors says that closing the homes and moving residents to privately-run care homes could save the authority more than £1m with a further £3m saved in maintenance and improvement costs.
But Howard Pink, a regional organiser with Unison, based at County Hall, said the union was “absolutely dismayed” at the prospect of more care home closures after seven were axed in 2010 and pledged to campaign on behalf of those affected.
Mr Pink said there had been no discussion with Unison prior to the announcement that councillors were being asked to give the go-ahead for a three month long consultation.
He said: “I am not surprised by this given the scale of the cuts that the county council is facing. But apart from the disruption to residents – and it’s known that when the elderly are moved out of care homes in the course of closing them it can shorten their lives – there are a lot of staff working in these homes.
“I am sure they would want us to campaign on their behalf to keep them open.”
Independent Weardale County Councillor John Shuttleworth, whose elderly mother only moved to Newtown House five weeks ago, said: “She is in the best place getting the best care and I want that to continue.
“I am not just speaking for my mother, I am speaking for all the other people in there. It is always older people who are made to suffer.
“The council will consult, but won’t listen.”
Staff were given letters outlining the proposals. An anonymous caller to The Northern Echo, who said his partner worked at one of the homes, said: “It’s atrocious.”
If, as expected, the consultation is approved alternative options to be discussed are keeping the homes open and carrying out the repairs and maintenance required or potentially handing their management over to other organisations.
Councillor Morris Nicholls, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for adult services, said: “The council has experienced significant budget reductions and we are looking at all of our services to ensure they are cost-effective and fit for purpose.
“We would not consider making any changes to the way we provide residential care without first seeking the views of those involved and ensuring their feedback informs any decision.”
The council claims the cost of in-house residential care is significantly higher than that in the independent sector and in the report gives the example of Newtown House where it says the cost per resident is £440 a week above the market rate.
The cabinet will meet next Wednesday, October 9, at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle.
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