Action group formed to preserve Borders day services for learning disabled

A PRESSURE group has been formed to represent the views of Borderers who care at home for adults with learning disabilities.

And a delegation from the Carers Action Group (CAG) is due to meet Scottish Borders Council’s social work director Andrew Lowe today to discuss its fears for the future as the local authority embarks on a radical redesign of its day services.

“If anyone was unsure about the vulnerability of adults with learning disabilities then Tuesday’s Panorama should have left them in no doubt,” said CAG secretary Elaine McGlasson, whose son Craig attends a day facility in Galashiels, run under contract with the council by Gala Day Services.

Mrs McGlasson was alluding to the secret BBC filming of adults with learning disabilities being pinned down, slapped, taunted and teased by staff at a Bristol hospital.

Police have since arrested four members of staff in connection with alleged serious abuse.

“I am not suggesting for a moment anything like that is going on in the Borders, but this sickening programme was a timely reminder that adults with learning disabilities are among the most vulnerable people in our society.

“I hope elected members of our council remember that, especially when they are considering future provision which gives vital respite to carers and life enrichment for our loved ones.”

Mrs McGlasson said the CAG had been formed after councillors in February approved a report on the redesign of day services by SBC’s head of social care and services Elaine Torrance, who will also attend today’s meeting.

The revamp will see services shaped in six localities to meet local needs.

There will be consideration of how those currently attending could receive alternative support in other settings, including supported employment and social enterprises.

Underpinning the changes, which the council wants to roll out over the next two years, is the premise that people with learning disabilities want, with appropriate support, to be involved in their own home towns and to “participate in local opportunites which can include, for example, adult literacy, social leisure activities, volunteering or work-related activities”.

Councillors were told the changes would save the council nearly £200,000 by the end of the current financial year.

This would include £90,000 in reduced travel costs and £40,000 from not filling two vacant care assistant posts at the SBC-run Kathleen Elliot Centre in Hawick.

“The seeds of our discontent were actually sown last October when the council summarily imposed charges for clients using day services,” said Mrs McGlasson.

These charges totalled £6.20 a day – including lunch and transport – for her son, but were also applied to users of the Reiver Industries facility at Tweedbank, run under SBC contract by the Brothers of Charity.

This week Mr Lowe announced that users would now be consulted on the impact of the charges and how they were implemented. A deadline of June 24 has been set for responses.

Mrs McGlasson said that at a CAG meeting last week, attended by around a dozen parents or siblings of adults with learning disabilties, there was unanimous condemnation of the charges and a groundswell of feeling that the radical redesign of day services are driven by cost, not client need.

She said: “One Galashiels lady, whose middle-aged son has been attending a day centre in Peebles for more than 20 years, is very concerned about how he will cope if forced to go somewhere else.

“I really don’t know how the council is so certain about what people with learning disabilities want.

“It is our contention they don’t like change. They need a routine; they need to see the familiar faces of staff members; and they need friends they are used to.

“As carers we need to know that those we care for are safe and with trusted staff. We also need to know how we deal with the behavioural issues these changes will inevitably involve.”