Social work bosses defend revamp of disabled services

SOCIAL work bosses have defended the controversial reshaping of day services for Borders adults with learning disabilities.

The revamp, backed by Scottish Borders Council in February and due to be rolled out over two years, would see SBC services and those delivered under contract by private providers centred in six localities “to meet local needs”.

There will also be consideration of how the estimated 150 people using such facilities could receive “alternative support in other settings”.

The move, which will save SBC £200,000 a year, is based on the premise that people with learning disabilities want to be involved in their own home towns “to participate in local opportunities which can include, for example, adult literacy, social leisure activities, volunteering and work-related activities”.

As revealed last week, the impending changes, allied to charges levied by SBC last November for attendance, lunch and travel, has spawned the formation of a Carers Action Group (CAG) comprising parents, family members and carers of learning disabled adults who avail themselves of day services.

Group secretary Elaine McGlasson from Galashiels believes the council decision is flawed, cost-driven and does not put the client at the heart of the service.

“It is our contention that our loved ones do not like change, but need a routine, seeing the familiar faces of staff members and friends they are used to,” she claimed.

She cited one group member from Galashiels whose middle-aged son would no longer be able to attend a day centre in Peebles, despite having done so for more than 20 years.

Mrs McGlasson was part of a CAG delegation which met senior officers of SBC, including social work director Andrew Lowe and head of social care and services Elaine Torrance, last week to discuss their concerns and demand answers.

“We wanted to know how each invidual would be reviewed over the next year and what criteria would be used,” said Mrs McGlasson. “We were assured all reviews would be focused on the individual and told that an external reviewing officer had been brought in.

“We were told the impact on individuals of going to new surroundings would be monitored and assured that carers would not have to give up their jobs, and families would be supported.

“But we did not get an answer on what would happen if the Brothers of Charity – which runs the Reiver Industries unit at Tweedbank – or Gala Day Services in Galashiels were unsuccessful in tendering for contracts.

“We asked about carers being sent letters from the council demanding payment of charges and threatening to arrest wages while appeals are pending and asked what consultation had taken place before the charges were introduced.”

After the meeting, a spokesperson for SBC described the talks as “productive”.

“The council was able to clarify a number of queries raised by the group and agreed to ensure information, including a copy of the learning disability review and the outcomes of consultations, was forwarded to assist the group’s understanding of the process of implementation, timescales and actions arising from the review,” said the spokesperson.

“SBC sought to reassure families that any reviews will be undertaken on an individual basis to ensure any day opportunities are able to meet the needs and aspirations of the individuals and it is recognised that, indeed for some people, this may be a continued building-based day service.

“We have advised the group, with regards to outstanding charges, that when an appeal has not been resolved the council will suspend any invoices until any charges have been clarified and agreed.

“We would like to reinforce that the purpose of the review is to support individuals to participate in a wider range of activities in their local communities and assist people with learning disabilities to lead independent lives.”

Mrs McGlasson responded: “This is about people who cannot lead independent lives, although if we knew what these ‘wider range of activities’ were, we would be a lot happier. If they exist, then why are they not being used now?”

And she warned that the cost of providing day services was a fraction of what it would cost the state to look after people with learning disabilities full time and that this was a “serious risk” if carers were put under undue stress as a result of the proposed changes.