We Must Protect Our Care Groups, says Suffolk Labour Leader

How Much Do We Care?

On Christmas Eve, we read that the Friars Hall Nursing Home in Hadleigh had to close.  In the 4 days leading up to Christmas, all the remaining residents were forced to find alternative places to live. The experience, especially so close to Christmas, must have been traumatic for the residents and their families. Certainly not a Christmas Wish you would want for anyone.

Nursing Homes and Residential Care Homes are called “homes” for a reason – they are actually home for the people who live there. We all want our homes to be comfortable, and warm, and friendly.  But above all we want them to be safe – a place of safety when we are at home, and which will always be there for us so long as we call it home.  The older and more vulnerable people become, the more important it becomes for them to know that they will have a place which is theirs.

Friars Hall was by no means the only home to close in Suffolk last year. Frail residents have had to be moved from failing and closing homes all over our County. And over and over again the reasons have been the same – hard-pressed under-paid staff have not had the training or the support they require, or the time to give the one-to-one attention they need to the residents in their care.

On the same day, there was a piece of good news: the opening date – April 1st – was announced for the new Minsmere Ward at Beccles hospital.  This will be a “step-down” unit, in other words a recuperation suite to help patients, especially those with dementia, to leave hospital and return home as quickly as possible. With so many elderly people now stuck in hospital because they are not able to get the right care when they leave, this is precisely the sort of facility that is so urgently needed.

But we need more – not just recuperation units, but more specialised home care, more residential places for the most frail, and above all more help for the hundreds and hundreds of partners and families who want to look after their husbands or wives, mothers or fathers, but who just need a bit more advice, and a regular break, and support for making the adaptations required.

For the last 4 years, Suffolk’s Labour County Councillors have been calling on the Council to invest more in our care services.  In particular, we do not believe the Council pays the people who run our care homes and the staff who do the actual caring anywhere near enough.  Many of the homes that have closed – such as Kent Lodge in my own part of Ipswich – have done so because there has just not been enough money to pay sufficient properly trained staff. And many of the stories about failures in home care have been the result of underpaid carers rushing from one client to another without even being paid for the time they spend travelling. No wonder so many of the best carers leave, and it is so difficult to recruit any more.

The saving grace for care in our County – for younger people as well as the elderly – has been the vibrant and effective voluntary sector.  And charities and voluntary groups have been at the forefront of helping to prevent people having to go into long-term care too.  Now even that is at risk, and a large part of the blame for that must be shouldered by the County Council.  Some of our smaller charities have already had to close for lack of funds.  But now even the large ones are in trouble – and they don’t come much larger or more effective than Age UK Suffolk.  When even Age UK Suffolk is talking about withdrawing from parts of its services, surely it is time for the current administration at Suffolk County Council to reconsider the way they have cut voluntary sector grants.

It makes no sense. Voluntary organisations are cost-effective, almost by definition, as they do not have large managements or shareholders to pay and don’t need to make a profit.  But they do need to be paid enough to do the job properly – not paying them enough to survive is economic suicide as well as being deeply uncaring.

And it’s not just about the money.  In his message to us all for this year, the Bishop of Ipswich & St Edmundsbury tells us how important it is for us to be involved in helping others.  That voluntary spirit, which has helped create and sustain Age UK, and ICENI, and FIND, and all the other vital organisations that make our County a great place to live, has also helped transform the lives of the people who volunteer and of their friends and family.  We need to know we can receive help when we need it, but just as much, for our own spiritual well-being and sense of self-worth, we need to know that we can find ways to help others. Destroying the voluntary sector, through lack of care, or miserliness, or misunderstanding the situation, will damage not only the lives of those who rely on their help, but also undermine the bonds of love for our fellow human beings which hold our society together.

As Opposition Councillors, the County Council Labour Group has a job to do between now and February 9th, to convince the Conservatives who run our County that they can’t cut care services any further, and above all, that they need to restore a proper level of grants to charities and voluntary sector organisations.  If they listen to us, all well and good.  If not, we’ll just have to hope the people of Suffolk are better listeners.

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