“Scotland’s shame”: Scottish Government called upon to save threatened care homes


Campaign group Save Our Bield says immediate action is needed to save 12 care homes from closure

AN IMMEDIATE INTERVENTION by the Scottish Government is necessary to save 12 Scottish care homes operated by the Bield Housing Association from closure, according to local activists and families of the care home residents.

Edinburgh-based Bield are one of the largest care providers in Scotland and have been working in elderly care for over 45 years. Their residential care homes provide high-quality specialised care for the elderly, some of whom have been living in Bield homes for decades. Now, Bield homes in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife, Falkirk, Scottish Borders, South Lanarkshire and West Lothian are to be closed in early 2018.

Shortly after the closures were publicly announced in October, a spokesperson for the local authority body Cosla told press: “This decision has been taken by the provider because of the long term unsustainable nature of the business model.”

Bield chief executive Brian Logan also said: “We are aware of the serious impact these changes will make to people who use our services, their families and our staff.”

After being informed of the planned closures by Bield on 10 October, a number of concerned relatives of those affected formed the Save Our Bield (SOB) campaign group to prevent the care homes from closing by compelling the Scottish Government to intervene on humanitarian grounds.

“As a charity, using public funds, Bield Housing must be held accountable.” Unison Scottish organiser John Gallacher

In their efforts, SOB has highlighted the fact that, for those who are elderly, frail, dependent on outside agencies and moving against their will, relocating can be stressful and even dangerous. Patients with dementia will have to reorientate themselves to new, unfamiliar environments, while some with physical illnesses may have their conditions worsen due to the stress involved in moving home.

SOB’s efforts include an online petition that has thus far gained almost 4000 signatures, which the group will deliver to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament on 12 December, as well as attending a specially convened meeting of the Health and Sport committee to discuss care home sustainability in light of Bield’s planned closures.

John Gallacher, Unison Scottish organiser, has also urged the Scottish Government to intervene to prevent the closures, telling the Courier newspaper: “The task of making alternative arrangements will fall back on public authorities, the tax payer and individual families at a few months notice. This is at a time when demand for care services can only increase. As a charity, using public funds, Bield Housing must be held accountable.”

“They [the Scottish Government] are pretty much burying their heads in the sand.” SOB member Laura Owens

In an effort to get its message across, SOB has been in touch with both Shona Robinson, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, and Michael Matheson, the Justice Secretary, but according to Laura Owens, a member of SOB whose grandmother lives in one of the threatened Bield homes, the response from both has been deeply unsatisfactory.

“Our response has been a generic response,” Owens told CommonSpace. “It’s pretty much been a standardised letter. We’ve not really had a direct response at all. They [the Scottish Government] are pretty much burying their heads in the sand.

Owens says the response from Bield has been similarly disingenuous and evasive. “[Bield is] saying that they’re taking their business in a different direction, so even if the Scottish Government were to magic money up, I don’t think that Bield would stay. So our Plan B, if the Scottish Government give them cash that they say they’re not interested, we’ll go to local authorities and say ‘Please keep them open.’

“A lot of the correspondence we receive from both Bield and the Scottish Government use a lot of language like ‘We will support’, and ‘We will talk to the residents’ – none of that’s happened. They haven’t actually offered anyone any support, other than to say they’re going to offer support, none of which has materialised.

“‘We will not be standing by’, said Shona Robinson. To date, that’s all they’ve done. We’ve been quite well-behaved as a campaign group and kept a lot of our opinions to ourselves in the hope of getting some sort of resolution, but I’m quite disgusted with the government and with the lack of support from Bield.

“We’re really looking for the Scottish Government to cough up the cash, really, and make these places financially viable. A lot of people probably think we’re living in a fantasy-land, but I think: they’ve done it with other commercial businesses, why can’t they do it with this?”

“At the end of the day, we’re talking about 167 vulnerable older people, who are going to be at risk of further trauma if they’re moved.” SOB member Laura Owens

SOB has highlighted the fact that the Scottish Government has in the past intervened to find fances for the Burrell collection, help broker a deal to save Motherwell steelworks in order to save 200 jobs, and supported BiFab for similar job-saving reasons. SOB argue that the principles and reasoning that motivated these interventions could also apply to the Bield situation.

Owens continues: “At the end of the day, we’re talking about 167 vulnerable older people, who are going to be at risk of further trauma if they’re moved out of places they’re familiar with.

“No matter what, we want these buildings to remain open and the staff to be given the opportunity to stay, whether that means the government supports Bield or the government supports the local authority.”

Owens met with Michael Matheson to discuss the issue, and was reportedly told by the Justice Secretary that there was not a “bottomless pit of money”.

Owens explained: “He [Matheson] said it’s not financially viable, and I said that I actually have some sympathy with Bield; we’ve got something in this country now called the National Care Home Contract Rate, which basically means that local authorities will pay a capped rate. No matter where you are, or what care home you’re in, that’s what gets paid if you’re not a self-funder. Self-funders pay more, which in itself a discrimination. My gran’s a self-funder, and she pays more for no different care. These places are running at a deficit because local authorities are unable to pay any more.

“So I said to Michael Matheson, ‘I think the National Care Home Contract needs to be reviewed’. And he says it’s been reviewed, but I said I really do think more money needs to be going into care homes. Four Seasons is about to go under – you’re talking about 1700 potential vulnerable people being made homeless yet again. I said the Scottish Government needs to step in, like they’ve done in other cases, and that’s when he said: ‘We do not have a bottomless pit of money’.”

“You can’t say ‘we advocate social responsibility and welfare and justice’, and then not include people at the other end of their life.” SOB member Laura Owens

The experience has soured Owens on the current administration in Holyrood, calling the Bield situation “Scotland’s shame”.

“We’ve got a government that, once upon a time, I may have voted for, but not now,” Owens continued. “They’ve got the brand of being socially responsible, and ‘We will fight austerity from down south’, which I would have got behind, but they’re not backing that up.

“The support the Scottish Government has put into young people is really commendable. But you can’t say ‘we advocate social responsibility and welfare and justice’, and then not include people at the other end of their life – the cradle to the grave.”

Asked how soon the Scottish Government would need to intervene in the Bield situation to save the care homes under threat, Owens said: “They need to intervene immediately. I reckon they’re hoping that if they bury their heads long enough, we’re going to go away because we don’t have any choice.

“Bield have probably known about their deficit for a long time, but according to them, they didn’t decide that they were going to be closing homes until May this year. They didn’t then tell local authorities until June. Bield then did not come to the families until October, which has basically left us with five months to do anything about it.

“Any response we get from the Scottish Government has to be immediate, even a stay of execution.”

CommonSpace sought comment from Bield Housing Association, who did respond in time for publication.

Picture courtesy of Bouremouth Borough Council

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