Monday, May 11, 2009

Cut, cut and cut again

And lo, it came to pass that earlier today, Birmingham City Council Cabinet rubberstamped yet another report to hit another ill-served group in our community. They just love punishing people, that cabinet. And again, the duty of swinging the axe fell to Cllr Sue Anderson - who should really be looking to get a job tending the garden of one of the Tory knights of the shires, such is her skill at hacking away at the undergrowth. This time, 'Slasher' Anderson has wielded her knife to shut down two of Birmingham's nine day care centres for people with learning difficulties, as revealed on this site a few days ago.

Predictably, the report is backed up by a 'consultation exercise' with the 700 people who use these day care, their carers, the staff and other interested parties. It has to be remembered that many of the service users have special communication needs and are particularly sensitive to any changes in their routine - these can be hugely damaging if not handled properly.

Many service users expressed strong feelings when discussing the proposals. They expressed views about feeling ‘sad’ and ‘upset’ about the impact of the possible closures of centres. They frequently expressed concerns about more people coming into their centres. The specific issues they raised were about more noise, lack of space, unavailability of activities, fewer opportunities to use computers, less available transport, and less staff time and attention. Many felt they would be “crowded” and “squashed” in fewer centres.

The main concerns about possible closures was the fear of a loss of familiar services and the impact that the changes will have on people who have been attending the centres for many years with people they perceive as their friends or staff with whom they are familiar.

So, they aren't in favour then? In any case, reports from carers at Aldridge Road say that many felt the questionnaire was an insult to their intelligence and clearly designed to elicit the a particular result - am I alone in wondering why so many carers are apparently concerned about service overspend, which is apparently a big talking point, if the 'consultation' report is to be believed?

Furthermore - as is becoming increasingly common amongst council documents - the boilerplate assembly of these reports leads to misleading elements being incorporated. The report promises that
Elected Members will be consulted and updated via reports to Constituency Committees"

This hasn't happened and the reports cannot be presented now until June - well after the decision has been taken. Sue Anderson has blithely continued, blaming the Constituency Director for this oversight.

Nevertheless, Slasher Sue ploughs on - centres at Aldridge Road in Perry Barr and Collingwood in Northfield are set to close despite opposition from the users and the carers. Now, it should be added that the report promises a place at a day care centre for every user who wants one, but it obviously may not be in their usual, familiar surroundings. But what's the interests of a few people when set against the budget, eh?

Disingenously, John Hemming has popped up on the Stirrer to defend his group's complicity in this social vandalism, blaming government policy. The government certainly wants to put the service user first and wants to see greater use of individual budgets, freeing up the user and carer to make choices that best suit their needs. Throughout government policy, however, it has been clear that the approach should be structured and rely upon personalised care plans and a comprehensive system of needs assessment. Indeed, back in 2006, Cllr Anderson was tasked through an Overview and Scrutiny Committee to ensure that
a person-centred approach to assessment/reassessment and care planning is adopted for all service users referred for, or currently receiving day services, and that all options are considered and result in care plans with clear objectives and timescales
This was supposed to have been completed in 2007, but I've been told that only a tiny percentage of the Aldridge Road users (slated to close) have proper assessments and some haven't been reviewed in three decades. Less than half of the Collingwood users have been similarly assessed, despite the process being due to complete two years ago. This suggests that the plan to close the sites by December will mean people being relocated without adequate planning or assessment.

More on this soon....

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