Two Care Homes Axed By Southampton City Council

COUNCIL leaders in Southampton caused an outcry last night when they unanimously voted to close down two care homes and evict 62 residents to save cash.

They dismissed passionate last minute protests in the council chamber from wheel-chair bound, frail and elderly residents, relatives and staff who angrily roared: “Shame on you” as the decision was made.

Their decision will see the council’s 33-bed Birch Lawn care home in Sholing and the 55-bed Whitehaven Lodge in Millbrook close over the next 18 months. Tory Cabinet member for adult social care councillor Ivan White recommended the closure with a “heavy heart” claiming it was for the benefit of all the city’s elderly and disabled.

Proposing the move to place residents in cheaper private care he said: “If we had the money we wouldn’t be doing it.”

But he insisted: “I have looked hard and have not seen anything in the consultation that would lead me to change my mind.”

He promised residents would be moved out “humanely” and “sympathetically”. Advisers would be provided for residents and “every opportunity would be made to move people in groups.”

And he said the quality of care would be as good in private homes.

But Dave Berry, whose 94-year-old mother is at Birch Lawn, warned the decision now risked the deaths of residents.

He pointed to a case in St Helens where seven residents died within three months of an “involuntary transfer”.

He said the council had “consigned frail and vulnerable residents to an uncertain fate.”

Dave Blake, 58, whose 86-year-old mother Ivy is at Whitehaven, accused councillors of “picking on the weak” and said a report detailing financial savings was “full of holes.”

Ian Palmby, whose 84-year-old mother is also at the same home, blasted: “The council should hang their head in shame.”

Around 75 residents and relatives had earlier joined union members to lobby Tory council leaders on the Civic Centre steps ahead of the controversial decision that will also put 69 staff out of work.

Some of them were wearing ‘Save Birch Lawn’ T-shirts. A petition of 5,000 names was handed to Tory councillors by the Unison and Unite unions.

Terry Hinton from Unite raged: “This is cost before care. Staff will be at risk of redundancies. Redeployment is most unlikely. This will mean compulsory redundancies.”

Opposition party councillors lined up inside the council chamber to denounce the proposals and each received rousing applause.

Lib Dem health spokesman councillor Gerry Drake said: “They are not thinking about care. They’re not thinking about people. They’re only thinking about money.”

But Cllr White hit back saying Labour and Lib Dems had done nothing to stop work on the closure behind the scenes when they briefly seized power earlier this year.

Cllr White insisted demand was falling for residential care as more people chose to live at home longer.

The council reckons it will save around £500,000 by buying cheaper private care and £400,000 on repairs needed to the 1980s homes. It could also net £1.5m from the sale of the sites.

Cllr White said no other independent healthcare provider was interested taking over the homes or building new ones.

The shock closure proposal was announced to residents at the end of August. A consultation period was extended by a month following a public outcry.

The Southampton Pensioners’ Forum and Southampton Seniors’ Council last night complained they had not been consulted.

Southampton’s two Labour MPs John Denham and Alan Whitehead had branded the consultation a sham and said closure should only be considered if the alternative was better.