A much-loved respite care home for severely disabled children in the heart of Kidderminster is under threat in a cost-cutting review by Worcestershire County Council.
News that the short break unit in Ludlow Road could close has caused anguish among families who rely on the service. “It’s a lifeline – we just could not manage without it,” said mum Amanda Danby, whose son Mason has been a regular visitor for 13 years.
A petition has now been launched in Kidderminster to save the service, which has been identified as the prime candidate for closure in consultation proposals unveiled by Worcestershire County Council. The petition, organised by Wyre Forest Labour, includes a plea to find the necessary funding to maintain the service.
The Conservative-run council is planning to redesign short-term respite care provided for disabled children across the county, including the care offered by Acorns Children’s Hospice Trust and at four residential sites around the county.
The chief proposal is to shut down the six bedded unit in Ludlow Road, which will cost more than £600,000 to operate this year, and instead increase provision at other premises in Bromsgrove and, possibly, Malvern.
The potential loss of the Ludlow Road unit has upset some of the 23 families currently using it, particularly as it is the only one in the county catering solely for children with severe physical disabilities. It is specially adapted for their use and does not take children with challenging behaviour to protect the vulnerable users.
Mason, now aged 16, has been a regular visitor to the unit since he was two and a half. After difficulties during birth, Mason developed spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair, has very limited mobility, is blind and suffers from epilepsy.
Said Amanda: “The centre has been a lifeline. We just could not manage without it. Mason goes every Tuesday for an overnight stay, and for one weekend in five. He has grown up using Ludlow Road, and we know we are leaving him in safe hands, with nursing staff to look after all his needs. It gives us a break, it has been a lifesaver.”
Mason requires round the clock care and supervision at home and in the unit – he has to be dressed, fed and regularly monitored. He receives lots of play and stimulation. “The staff are amazing. They do so much with the children – painting, music, cooking, therapy – but most of all is we know he is safe and happy. It will be difficult for him to adjust to change.”
The council’s Cabinet voted on December 14 to consult a range of organisations and the affected families about the existing short break provision. During that meeting Cabinet member Councillor Andy Roberts, responsible for children and families, said: “We have a legal obligation to provide short breaks for these families, usually around three times a month. Without our help it could mean the family might break down.
“It’s for children and families who are desperately in need of this support. But we need to look at the best way to give this help.”
The review has been triggered in part by a funding agreement dating back to 2015 which stated that NHS public health funding for the unit would cease in March 2018, meaning the council would become responsible for the bulk of the running costs.
Added Coun Roberts: “The proposal aims to ensure that where unit-based provision is appropriate, this continues, and will be available to families using the service now or in the future. it’s not to cut services, but to provide them in a more suitable, cost effective way.”
Councillor Marcus Hart, who is also leader of Wyre Forest District Council, where two of the units are based, said he hoped the consultation would go ahead fully to enable everyone involved to properly consider the options available.
The Cabinet agreed to approve the consultation for a redesigned service and also agreed to delegate the final decision to Councillor Roberts, without need to go back to the full Council.
In a statement issued Tuesday (January 2) Coun Roberts said: “The welfare of children, young people and families is our top priority. Worcestershire County Council provides vital short breaks provision to children with disabilities and their families across Worcestershire.
“The County Council recognises that these services can be delivered better in the future and that is why members of Cabinet agreed to launch a consultation as part of the review and commissioning of short breaks provision.
“During the consultation we’ll be offering to speak to each family individually to find out their thoughts on the proposals to redesign the services, including understanding if and how they might want services to be provided differently. We will also be speaking to professionals and other partners about the proposals.
“As part of the consultation a number of different options will be looked at so we can continue to provide respite for families, including providing suitable overnight respite through other provision or methods. One of the options being looked at is potentially ceasing the use of Ludlow Road Short Breaks Unit which is run by Worcestershire Health and Care Trust.
“The consultation will run for a minimum of six weeks and we’ll make a final decision in March 2018 at the earliest.”
A spokesman for Worcestershire Health and Care Trust said the Trust would be taking part in the consultation but at this stage had no further comment on the proposals.
The units involved in the consultation exercise are located at Ludlow Road, Kidderminster; Moule Close, Kidderminster; Providence Road, Bromsgrove; and Osborne Court, Malvern.
A full Position Statement has been produced by the council setting out the current use and costs of each unit as part of a report to Cabinet which can be viewed here.
The petition, available on change.org can be accessed here
Steven Brown and Ben Davies, from Wyre Forest Labour, discuss the campaign in a short video here
It is not the first time the centre has been under threat. In 2013 campaigners rallied successfully to defend it when the NHS trust proposed closure to try to reduce the cost of its short break services.