Funding Crisis Threat Hits Care Centre

A funding crisis has struck an Essex care centre for the elderly just two years after it was opened. Sydenham House, in Harlow, was built to ease pressure on hospital bed numbers but has hit hard times as a result of funding cuts for one of its units. Harlow Primary Care Trust may have to close the top floor of the centre due to the loss of financial support from Essex and Hertfordshire county councils. The trust said the 20-bed Edith Summerskill Unit, which provides care for elderly people in rehabilitation, has not been cost-effective since contracts with both councils ended in April.

But it added no redundancies are planned and staff have been offered jobs elsewhere. The ground floor, run by North Essex Mental Health Partnership Trust, and the PCT-run first floor will continue to provide a full service.

Trust chief executive Pam Court said: “The review will be completed in three months during which we will be speaking to staff, patients, the public and our healthcare partners. However, I would like to reassure everyone that Sydenham House will be continuing as a community hospital and the new West Essex PCT is fully committed to the long-term future of this unit. This review will give us an opportunity to look at what will best suit the needs of the local community now and for the future.”

When the centre opened in March 2004, Mrs Court, PCT chairman Tom Farr and Harlow MP Bill Rammell showed off the Summerskill unit to invited guests and spoke of the benefits the centre would bring to elderly patients in Harlow.

Mr Rammell, who has asked County Hall for a review on the situation, told the Star this week: “The review of the use of some of the beds is an opportunity to reassess health needs locally and work out how best these beds can be utilised for local people.”

A spokesman for County Hall said the situation was “unfortunate” and efforts were being made to find an alternative arrangement. “Obviously, our key priority is to meet the care needs of the people of Harlow, so we are now looking to increase capacity in the area by working with the private, voluntary and independent sectors,” he added.

A Herts County Council spokesman said it had a two-year contract with the trust and during the same period had planned and constructed a new elderly care home in Ware, meaning it had to decide where to put its future resources.

“It was recognised that it would not be commercially viable to extend the contract with Sydenham House beyond two years,” he said. “This decision however was not a reflection on the home and we were satisfied with the quality of care provided during the contract.