Dozens of vulnerable residents living in seven Derbyshire care homes will have to move out for the best part of a year regardless of a pending consultation into their closure.
Helen Jones, Derbyshire County Council’s director of adult social care, made the revelation in a snap scrutiny committee meeting on Monday (6 December).
The meeting was held after opposition councillors, and a rebel Conservative, “called in” the decision to launch a consultation on revived plans to close seven council-run care homes.
It was felt, by the opposing group, that the consultation outcome had been predetermined – meaning a decision on the potential closures had already in effect been decided – that the proposals were lacking in detail, did not uphold equality and that the reasoning for the plan was neither open or transparent.
They also felt the previous consultation was so recent, having been handled last year, that a new one should not be necessary to gauge opinion.
During the scrutiny meeting, Ms Jones revealed that all the 68 remaining residents within the seven affected homes would be forced to move out by September 2022 whether the consultation results show support for it or not.
The homes themselves have a combined capacity for 225 residents, but are now mostly vacant through the enforced stopping of admissions. The council had used the declining demand for care homes as part of the justification for potentially closing homes.
Ms Jones said the condition of wiring at the seven homes was deteriorating rapidly and said specialists had informed the authority that the risk of fire at the properties would only grow.
She said she had already made the executive decision that no further long-term residents should be admitted to the homes, which is why their occupancies are so low.
It is also her decision to have residents moved out of the homes and into other facilities by September, due to the perceived risk posed by the condition of the electrical wiring.
Ms Jones said: “By September 2022, everyone living in these homes at the moment will have to move out due to the deteriorating condition of the electrical wiring, irrespective of any decisions made on whether the consultation should be allowed.”
She said all residents would be supported to move to another facility for the estimated 40 weeks it would take to carry out repairs to the care homes.
Cllr Ed Fordham, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, questioned why an option was not being considered in which residents were moved to one side of their respective homes while refurbishment was carried out on the opposite half, and then moved again while the remaining half was repaired.
He called this an “east-west” option and would be viable due to the current low capacity in the homes.
Cllr Fordham said this would be better for the mental health of residents, but Ms Jones said residents could be supported safely to be taken out of their homes and a returned at a later date.
The condition of the properties was repeatedly disputed during the scrutiny meeting, with multiple councillors naming people close to them who have inspected the wiring at some of the homes in question and deemed them safe.
Cllr Ruth George, deputy leader of the Labour Group, said the only fault at Goyt Valley House (one of the affected homes) in the High Peak had been a faulty light switch which has since been repaired.
She said residents and relatives of residents at the affected homes found the evidence relating to the condition of the buildings “laughable”.
Cllr George said the condition of the buildings is not materially different than it was during the previous consultation on care home closures last year.
She said the response from residents, relatives and staff would be the same as it was then – near unanimous opposition to closures of the homes.
Cllr George said the potential closure of the homes last year put “severe stress” on residents, relatives and staff near the start of the pandemic, who had an “appalling” time as a result.
She said some residents in the affected homes “lost their lives” during the pandemic and the threatened closures.
Cllr George said residents rely on the council’s care homes when they are rebuffed from private facilities which have turned them away due to the complexity of their needs.
She also said the homes offered vital “step-down” facilities for those well enough to leave hospital but not medically fit to return to their home.
Cllr Tony Kemp, chairing the committee, said the meeting was about the decision-making process that saw the consultation initially approved, not the potential outcome of the consultation itself.
Cllr Natalie Hoy, the cabinet member for adult social care, said: “I would not feel safe putting my relatives in a care home with dated wiring.
“I would not have my loved ones to live in a construction site especially when there may be asbestos in the homes. I would not have my loved ones living in danger.”
She said it was “vitally” important to consult before the residents are moved in order to gauge opinion, after which the issue could be fully debated.
Cllr Anne Clarke, Labour, said she knew of residents in her division, such as one named Dot, who would rather be in a care home as opposed to being supported in her own home due to the isolation of living alone.
Cllr Gez Kinsella, Green Party, said: “I would have thought the council was making evidence-based decisions for the benefit of the people of Derbyshire.
“The previous consultation was 18 months ago and it concluded that there would be no closures without there being a suitable alternative and I don’t see that alternative being listed.”
The scrutiny committee voted to reject the call-in, which would have taken it back to the authority’s ruling cabinet, by five votes to reject, two votes for the call-in and one Labour councillor, Christine Dale, abstaining from the vote.
This means the 12-week consultation will now start.
The affected homes are:
- Ladycross House, Sandiacre
- Beechcroft, West Hallam
- East Clune, Clowne
- Holmlea, Tibshelf
- The Spinney, Brimington
- Goyt Valley House, New Mills
- Gernon Manor, Bakewell
The three options in the consultation are:
- Close the homes for up to 40 weeks, spending £27 million on repairs, with a “pressing need” to do so by September 2022
- Close the homes and move residents to other “local, suitable alternative provision”
- Close the homes and move residents to “any available suitable alternative provision”
The council has said that even if the repairs are carried out, the homes are “no longer fit for purpose and do not have the space, facilities or capability to be adapted to provide high quality care for older people with increasingly complex needs”.