Am Bratach No. 221
March 2010

Assynt Centre: care or don’t care?

In Sutherland the number of pensioners is increasing and at the same time the total population is decreasing, writes a correspondent. The falling numbers of young people and families mean that the normal demographic pyramid of an economically viable population has been turned on its head. This problem is particularly acute in remote and rural areas as younger people drift away. So, who will care for older adults?

Why would the Highland Council close the Assynt Centre Care Home? The nearest alternatives are in Ullapool, Melness and on the east coast and all not easily accessible by public transport. At the end of last year there was a waiting list in both Lochbroom House and Caladh Sona. Yet the indication is that the occupancy level in the Lochinver Care Home is nearer 10%.

The crux of the matter is that apparently three bed care homes will never pay because of the standards required by the Care Commission. Yes, the same one-size fits all approach for Glasgow suburbs and a crofting-fishing village. The “never pay for itself” ethos spells disaster for communities distant from the urban centres; the loss of 8.3 full time equivalent jobs; and the income that brings.

Yet five years ago the Assynt Centre was a viable, happy place. It is believed that a combination of red tape, the Care Commission and no-can-do thinking has contrived to bring about this scary situation. It started in October 2005 when the Highland Council reduced the availability of respite at weekends. So how does a carer get a fortnight’s holiday, a weekend break?

Carers save governments millions of pounds, yet it appears that officials fail to treat then with respect and gratitude. It also seems that an 8-bed care home is the optimum size; so therein lies the challenge. In order to cut the higher wage bill per capita you cut overtime and wages and people. The blue touch paper of closure has been lit. People begin to feel a burden, so gonnae no go there then. People begin to vanish, so the place closes itself. Is it closed? It feels closed. Constructive closure; constructive dismissal — it’s the same!

In the current economic era of mismanagement the council has indicated an expected bill for the centre of £276,000 for the coming financial year. Rent rising to £25,000 a year and heating in excess of £20,000 for a few people result in consternation amongst accountants. The recent budget decision has agreed a reduced £150,000 funding to allow UHI’s Older for Older project time to assist the community group to establish a local social enterprise — Community Care Assynt, a company limited by guarantee. The group is meeting urgently.

After dragging their heels for so long, Highland Council has agreed to support and to fund the transfer of the facilities and services to Community Care Assynt. Assynt needs a social hub for older adults, for day care and for a lunch club. Soon the beds will be mothballed and an agreed Single Outcome Agreement for providing the council’s statutory duty of care will start in Year Two. Community Care Assynt is still volunteer-led but has the ability to be fully professional almost immediately.

After the anger we start asking how many more of our social responsibilities will be foregone by the public sector because of the failures of the private. It is even more important now to consider whether it is right to shift the balance of care onto carers and the cared-for in order to keep down the costs of rising older populations.


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