Minister brands council OAP care move a ‘disgrace’

The kirk in Caithness has taken up cudgels on behalf of elderly people in the Highlands who need residential care. Community care managers in Highland Council have been instructed to make supported placements in care homes run by the local authority, and not those in the independent sector.

This led Thurso minister, the Rev Ronnie Johnstone, to yesterday accuse the council of running roughshod over the needs of individuals.

He described the economy measure as “disgusting” and an attack on one of the most vulnerable and needy groups in society.

The suspension of state-funded placements in private and voluntary-run homes is part of a package of measures designed to counter a massive budget overspend.

Officials have termed it an interim measure in a recovery plan which is due to be reviewed at today’s meeting in Inverness of the housing and social work committee.

Caithness Church of Scotland Presbytery has not had a chance to discuss the issue, but a letter to local councillors was yesterday sent by Mr Johnstone, its church and society convener, and Margaret Buxton, its social care convener.

It it they state: “Our concern is that Highland Council’s prime social care policy objective is not to provide the best and most suitable form of care – in accordance with the medical needs of a patient – but simply to balance its books, to keep its own staff in jobs, and to keep its own establishments operating at capacity.”

The church has a particular interest as its social care agency, Crossreach, runs 21 residential homes in Scotland, including bases at Reay, Dornoch, Inverness and Nairn.

Mr Johnstone said it has previously been assured that elderly people would be given the choice of which home they wished to move into.

He added that some homes in the independent sector could offer care for some types of resident, which is unavailable in council homes.

He said: “It’s the poor and those people without an advocate who are going to be treated as sources of income by the council – I find it disgusting. Surely, it’s a basic right to be able to choose where you are going to spend the final years of your life?”

The council insists the welfare of individuals remains central in the regime, despite the temporary measures being taken to help address a projected overspend of £3.4million in this year’s social work budget.

A spokesman said: “Community care managers have been given advice in light of the severe budget restraints to fill vacancies in our own homes where we employ staff.

“It makes sense to make the placement there rather than buy care in a private or voluntary-run home.”