Home Page Let's hope the vanishing care home doesn't end up somewhere else 24/07/10

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

Well, that just shows how wrong you can be! Back in March, I wrote in this column about the plan to redevelop the site of Chalkstone Middle School as a state-of-the-art care home, and said of Suffolk County Council: ‘I don’t suppose any amount of public reaction will make them draw back now’.

As it turned out, public reaction was quite favourable. Everyone realises that caring for elderly people with Alzheimer’s Disease, or other forms of dementia, is going to be a major issue in the future as we are all living longer.

The description of the sort of facilities that were going to be available in a care home within Haverhill made very good reading.

Most of us probably thought there was a chance we might end up there, and it didn’t sound too bad. There was not the sort of backlash, either, that I expected from the many people who value Place Court and its staff very highly, and who might have feared for their future.

There wasn’t even the level of doubt about a Private Finance Initiative that one might have expected in the current climate.

So it all seemed to be going along swimmingly until this week, when the county council’s cabinet decided to axe the scheme and the two others being put forward alongside it.

Assuming this goes through the full council, which is pretty much a certainty, it means that the delightful vision put forward at many meetings in Haverhill during the spring has turned into a mirage.

Hopefully it won’t have the debilitating effect of many mirages, which only make the unfortunate traveller more aware of the desert around him. It was quite clear from the public response that people do value Place Court highly, so the current quality of provision is not in question.

The sad part is that there has been a lot of new thinking in the way this very difficult area of care is carried out, and this would have been a golden opportunity to implement it.

One assumes that the outlook for PFIs is now bleaker than ever, and the council became afraid it would be landed with the whole bill in the end, so decided to cut its losses early on rather than get too far down the road to turn back.

I hope that is the case, because there is some credibility in a decision based on that, at a time when we know the next few years are going to be difficult.

I hope it is not, as has happened in the past, a decision made by people who think such top quality facilities should be in the biggest centres of population, and not on the fringes.

The council has asked for a full-scale review of adult care provision across the county to decide on the way forward, and an awkward, niggling thought besets me that we might find that the sort of facilities which had been put forward here, but found to be unviable, just turn out to be viable somewhere else.

Remember the issue of GP funding in Haverhill? True, that was not the county council, but it was in the area of health care.

Suffolk Primary Care Trust decided Haverhill doctors had the wrong sort of patients, and were costing too much, so they took a dollop of funding away. Then they discovered there were other GP practices in Suffolk – in rather better-off rural areas – that had the right sort of patients and needed the money giving to them instead.

Then they decided Haverhill people weren’t getting a good enough service from their GPs, so the town needed a walk-in ‘Darzi’ clinic, at considerable expense.

I am not certain of the effect of this investment, except that a recent town council meeting was told the walk-in clinic is massively under-subscribed and there was some doubt over its continuance.

Now, of course, PCTs are to be done away, and financial control given back to the doctors, so we wait to see the effects of that.

With hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, it would probably have been better for the county council never to have floated the new care home idea at all until it had decided in principle to go ahead with it.

And before everyone complains that that is just the sort of bulldozing which I am always protesting about, yes, I admit that, in my cynical way, I did think the council had already agreed to go ahead with it before it even began the public consultation.

These sort of cosmetic consultations are common enough – I still maintain that was the case over the schools re-organisation issue.

But it is not as if the plan had come forward in the days of plenty. We already knew the writing was on the wall about public sector cuts, even before our hopes were raised out of the blue by this interesting proposal for the re-use of a redundant site.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is not to offer any more hostages to fortune until the economy looks a darn sight better.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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