Monday, 1 December 2014

If the hostel closes, where will the residents go?

Imogene Russell,  

Greenwich Council is proposing to close the hostel for people with learning disabilities at 75 Ashburnham Grove. The hostel is part of our community and we are concerned about the future of its nine residents, because the council has no plan for where they will go afterwards. The residents have been our neighbours in Ashburnham Grove for up to 20 years, and a number of ATA members have got to know them and the staff through looking after the hostel garden with them for the last five years.
We understand that the building has faults as a hostel and that the land is valuable. However the council has no other appropriate premises in the borough, or plans to build any, so that the future of these vulnerable residents is worryingly unclear. The indications are that they will be sent outside the borough and/or be handed over to the private sector.
We oppose the closure of the hostel until suitable alternative homes in the borough are identified, with care provided directly by the council and not outsourced. Hostel residents and their families, and staff, are encouraged by our support in this. Other homes for people with learning disabilities in the borough are similarly threatened and there is now a borough-wide campaign.
The council is asking for feedback to the proposal to close hostels. Whatever your views, you can email your feedback to  If you’d be happy to copy your response to Sara Emanuel, hostel gardeners co-ordinator, at that would be useful.
The deadline for responses to the council is Friday December 5th.

If you’d like Greenwich Council’s point of view on this, you can click on the consultation documents and they will download to your computer. Service Consultation Briefing Paper  Easy Read GLO Consultation Briefing Paper  FAQs and Feedback Form 
These documents detail what the council describes as a review of service provision for people with learning disabilities throughout the borough. This title is not accurate because the review is only about physical premises, not about other aspects of the life inside them, and it also excludes premises where services have already been outsourced (see par 1b of the Service Consultation Briefing Paper). So the review’s focus was on not on borough-wide care in general but more narrowly on premises which can be disposed of, or the services within them outsourced. The review recommends that, out of the nine premises considered, five should be closed, one have its service outsourced, and three made cheaper-to-run by being changed from hostels to ‘supported living homes’ which require less staff.
The general rationale given for these changes is that residents’ needs are mostly not being met in these locations. The council accepts that criticism, but does not follow through by proposing how needs are to be met and services made adequate. This central issue is not touched on at all in the documents. It might make excellent sense to provide more modern buildings in a cheaper area, and although this would be an upheaval for hostel residents, it would benefit them too. But this is not the council’s position. There is no consideration at all of how best to match resources to needs. And there are no proposals for new buildings or new investment.
The reasons for change are itemised in the FAQs and Feedback Form , paraphrased here a little for brevity.
1) Residents are young with ‘significant nursing needs’ which ‘puts pressure on staff capacity’.
This is an argument for more or perhaps more expert staff, and for long-term commitment, but there are no proposals at all for that kind of improvement – on the contrary, the plan is for closure or a change to fewer staff (from hostels to supported living homes), and for outsourcing, ie privatisation, which is likely to mean lower paid, less experienced, less engaged, less permanent staff. And going out of the borough is mentioned, which again won’t help young residents who have many needs. So the review’s recommendations are not designed to deal with the problem it puts forward – quite the opposite.
2) Some residents should be catered for by other services.
There is no mention of what other services or why they should take over, or whether these other services would agree.
3) ‘The residential service generally lacks a focus on, and a culture of, identification and achievement of outcomes for people who use the service’.
This seems to mean that people with learning difficulties should be trained to look after themselves more. That won’t be possible in many cases, but even where it is, that training should come first before decisions are made to close hostels.
4) We don’t need all this provision.
There is no attempt to adduce evidence to justify this or even give its meaning. Are there vacancies in the hostels? Or is it that the people in them don’t need to be there?
The reasoning here could be summarised as 1) these people need a lot of looking after; 2) someone else should look after them; 3) or they can look after themselves more; 4) and anyway there aren’t that many of them. So, let’s close their homes.

The specific reasons for closing the Ashburnham Grove hostel in the review are that the ‘Property is not suitable for clients with poor mobility, especially wheelchair users. Also layout makes it difficult to properly supervise residents. Expensive to maintain. Requires wheelchair accessible service, tracking hoists, wet rooms. Service would benefit from training kitchen with adjustable units. Not appropriate for registered care.’ At a consultation meeting the council added that there are no basins in the bedrooms to make it easier to wash residents. All this sounds very reasonable. But there are no plans to make any better provision.
As for future options, from these documents it looks very much as if the council is thinking of outsourcing services and premises, and also of sending residents out of the borough. It is hard to conclude otherwise since these are the only future options mentioned at all in the documents. In the FAQs and Feedback Form  outsourcing is said at question 4 to be recommended for some locations. Then question 8 asks whether residents will have to move outside the borough. The answer is that everyone will have ‘a choice’, and that you can go outside the borough if you want to and we’ll help you to. There is no answer to whether you can stay in the borough if you want to. And obviously you can’t have a choice of a Greenwich Council hostel if there isn’t one, and there won’t be any if these proposals go though. If present services are inadequate, which is the rationale for closure, the answer is to make them adequate, rather than to move people with learning difficulties out of their borough where their families are likely to live, or to give them over to private providers where the staff who care for them will be paid substantially less than at present (after a statutory TUPE period), with the well-known attendant tendencies to less engagement and higher turnover.
If any of these interpretations of the documents seem inaccurate, clarification would be welcome. If you think there must be a more substantial review that we haven’t seen, you will discover from the council that these documents are all there is. The council does not say who carried out the review. It only says it was ‘supported by the the Institute of Public Care (IPC)’. It does not say ‘carried out by’, although later in the report, it becomes ‘the IPC review’. There is also no mention of whether the reviewers visited the various premises and talked to staff or residents or their families.
Many of us will have sympathy with the financial predicament of local government following central government cuts. We also understand that if Greenwich Council were to gain £millions from a sale of the land in Ashburnham Grove, it would not be obliged to put that money into services for people with learning disabilities. On the other hand, it could.

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