Audit Commission called in over KCC plans to close care homes

Kent County Council is being reported to the Audit Commission over its handling of a consultation into care home closures.

Last week the authority’s cabinet member for adult social services – Cllr Graham Gibbens – announced he was going ahead with the “modernisation programme” despite widespread opposition from elderly residents, carers and unions.

This involves the closure of four care homes and the selling-off or rebuilding of a further seven.

However, the issue is now being referred to the Audit Commission by Kent Lib Dem leader Cllr Trudy Dean over concerns about the way alternative proposals put forward by campaigners were assessed.

She said: “We are very disappointed that there have been no changes despite overwhelming opposition to the scheme, and we also have particular concerns about the lack of any independent assessment of the alternative proposals. These were all referred to an assessment panel made up entirely of KCC adult social services staff, who all have a personal interest because they were involved with the original plans.

“In our view, the alternatives were not robustly considered so I shall be referring the matter to the Audit Commission, which is the council’s external auditor.”

Should the commission agree with Cllr Dean then KCC may be recommended to take a second look at the alternatives.

The four care homes due for closure are Ladesfield in Whitstable, Sampson Court in Deal, The Limes in Dartford, and Lawrence House in Folkestone.

Bowles Lodge in Hawkhurst, Cornfields in Dover, and Manorbrooke in Dartford, are all set to be demolished and replaced with ‘extra care’ social housing where residents live independently but with carers available 24 hours a day.

John Porter’s 89-year-old mother, who lives at Bowles Lodge, is blind, deaf and suffers from heart problems and osteoporosis. His alternative proposal for the home to be turned into an enhanced respite centre was one of those dismissed by KCC.

Mr Porter said: “My proposal was kicked into touch before Cllr Gibbens made his decision, which I felt was premature because surely he should have had all the information when making such an important call.

“My mum could die as a consequence of having to move, no matter how carefully they plan on doing it. That’s my biggest concern.”

The other homes involved are Wayfarers in Sandwich, which will be sold as a going concern, and three in Swale – Kiln Court in Faversham, Doubleday Lodge in Sittingbourne and Blackburn Lodge in Sheerness – that the council will effectively sell to the private sector, with an agreement retaining rights to places.

The fate of the Dorothy Lucy Centre in Maidstone will be decided later this year.

Cllr Graham Gibbens said: “Whenever we look at commissioning services, we do that ourselves through a well-established commissioning process with qualified officers.

“There is no requirement legally, and therefore there was no formal requirement, to set up an evaluation panel. We did so because of a determination to look at matters in detail and to be fair and transparent.

“The alternatives were reviewed against the four main reasons behind the proposals by qualified and experienced officers representing each aspect of the organisation.

“The commissioning process has checks and balances built in, not least of which is the political scrutiny framework and the legal responsibility carried by the statutory post of director of adult social services.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Dean has also questioned the timing of the reorganisation, given that a government White Paper is due to be published in July that could present new opportunities for social care funding.

The recommendations are being drawn up by the Independent Commission for Funding of Care and Support, chaired by Andrew Dilnot.