New pledge made over plans to close care homes in Chesterfield and Derbyshire

Derbyshire Conservatives have made a new pledge over plans which would have seen seven council care homes closed in the next 15 months.

By Eddie Bisknell
Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 10:35 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 5:00 pm

The reversal came in a press release put out by Derbyshire Tories, not by Derbyshire County Council itself, which has yet to publish any information confirming a change in policy.

It is also yet to publish the results of a consultation on the potential care home closures, but in April had said there had been 1,500 responses.

Labour opposition councillors have questioned when an official council statement will be made.

The Spinney care home at Brimington.

In the release, the group, led by Coun Barry Lewis, announce a new pledge that “no care home shall close without another to replace it”, before listing a number of scenarios in which this could happen.

The authority had planned to close four council care homes from this September and three from September 2021.

This was due to a perceived declining demand for residential care over the next couple of decades, that the homes were not fit for modern standards and were in need of extensive repairs.

More than 9,000 people had signed petitions objecting to the closures. Homes included East Clune in Clowne, and Holmlea in Tibshelf, as well as The Spinney, Landsdowne Road, Brimington.

Campaigners, union officials and one of Derbyshire’s Conservative MPs have welcomed the reversal as a “victory for common sense”.

Following the announced U-turn, Conservative Coun Robert Flatley confirmed the reversal came after a “strong argument” from the Derbyshire public.

He also said the new pledge would be under review – but denied this meant the pledge was temporary.

The pledge says that “no DCC-run care home will close in Derbyshire before the onset of 2022”.

This would push any care home closures until after the May 2021 council elections, which Labour says makes the move purely political.

The pledge also appears to be a promise to build seven new care homes in just a number of years – despite the council facing budget cuts of more than £65 million and facing an in excess of £120 million impact from Covid-19.

To maintain no closures up until 2022, the care homes said to be on the brink of an emergency would have to last several more years.

The council’s most recently approved care home in Cotmanhay will cost £15 million while its most recently completed care home in Belper took two and a half years to build.

It is thought that around 195 residents would have been affected by the potential care home closures, along with 311 members of staff.

Most of these residents would have been forced into private care.

In March, Cllr Lewis, leader of the county council, said that the extent of disrepair at the seven homes meant some may close during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic due to imminent electrical safety issues.

The Conservative release says: “In the time since the start of the consultation the world has changed, radically, with Covid-19 impacting on all parts of society and in particular the elderly and vulnerable in our communities and care homes. It is clear care homes will continue to be a central pillar of any strategy to deal with the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.”

Coun Lewis says: “Whilst we recognise that these care homes are neither fit for purpose for the long term and still present us with considerable challenges with regard to their longer-term safety and general soundness, we are committed to not closing any of them unless there is a new care home to replace it – in line with our original pledge to the people of Derbyshire.”

Ahead of the 2017 election, the Conservatives pledged not to close any Derbyshire care homes.

Coun Lewis said: “The longer term future of care provision remains the key pledge of Derbyshire Conservatives, and we are working with staff to develop a new five-year investment plan, working with the wider care sector, to ensure Derbyshire County Council can offer the best, modern, fit-for-purpose care facilities to ensure elderly Derbyshire residents and dementia sufferers have the provision they deserve and need, both now and into the future.”

The pledge says: “If a care home is to close after the start of 2022 there will be new alternative provision to replace it.

“If it is the case that one or more of the affected care homes need to be closed then we pledge this will be temporary.

“Some of the affected homes have considerable issues (rewiring and asbestos) and we may need to ensure they remain safe for the duration. If this happens we will endeavour to reopen them as soon as we can.”

It is not known if the replacement homes would be of the same size, located in the same area or offer the same general service – not a specialised facility.

Coun Flatley said: “The commitment is for like-for-like replacements (to modern standards) however DCC must have an adaptable approach to providing care in future years dependent on demand and changing needs.

“Whilst general demand may reduce in the future, there will be a need for specialised care which future facilities will be able to provide/be adapted to.”

Coun Paul Smith, Labour opposition leader, said: “We need these homes now more than ever and that has never been more clear – we don’t know how long this is going to go on for.

“It has taken something like this, the unprecedented outbreak of Covid-19, to recognise the need and value of care homes to the communities of Derbyshire.

“This has caused unnecessary upset and anxiety for staff and residents and it is tribute to the residents and their families and all who campaigned and stood up and said ‘no’.

“Thank you to everyone who took the time to sign petitions and put pressure on the council to stop the closures.”

Jeanette Lloyd, branch secretary for union UNISON, said: “UNISON has led the fight against these closures on many levels, we have consistently opposed them with senior management and elected members, reiterating our belief we should be looking towards the future and build new homes fit for the 21st century.”

Martin Allen, regional secretary for union GMB Midland and East Coast Region, said: “The plan to close these Derbyshire care homes, putting hundreds of jobs at risk in the care sector, was a bad idea from day one.

“The public knew it, care workers knew it, residents knew it and the GMB union knew it.

“This decision not to close them will come as welcome news at a time when our care workers have been at the front line of tackling this virus.

“The GMB is proud of each and every care worker that has made this happen and we will continue to fight for them every step of the way.”

East Clune Care Home in Clowne, Ladycross in Sandiacre, Beechcroft in West Hallam and The Spinney in Brimington are the facilities were set to close from this September.

Meanwhile Holmlea Care Home in Tibshelf, Goyt Valley in New Mills and Gernon Manor in Bakewell could have closed from September 2021.