Fears as Aylsham respite centre set to close

Dan GrimmerTwo Norfolk centres providing respite care for adults with learning difficulties are set to close, prompting fears for some of the most vulnerable people and their carers.Dan Grimmer

Two Norfolk centres providing respite care for adults with learning difficulties are set to close, prompting fears for some of the most vulnerable people and their carers.

Councillors yesterday voiced doubts about the plans to shut the residential units at Mill Close in Aylsham and Park View, Kings Lynn, and demanded reassurances on alternative care provision.

NHS Norfolk, NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney and Norfolk County Council are currently talking to patients and carers about respite care for people with learning difficulties.

Health bosses presented their proposals to the county's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee yesterday.

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Shirley Weymouth, district councillor for Winterton and a member of the committee, said: 'These plans are like stepping a step backwards.

'I would be mortified if I were a carer and these facilities were taken away from me. Continuity is needed for people with learning difficulties and this will take away the one place they can go to for security and care.'

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Alison Thomas, district councillor for Long Stratton, said: 'Nothing seems planned. Is this just a way of slowly introducing charges for people with learning difficulties?'

The move is in line with government policy to phase out NHS residential facilities or 'campuses' for people with learning difficulties.

The Department of Health says there is strong evidence that people with learning difficulties have a greater degree of independence and inclusion if they live in a community-based, rather than an institutional, setting.

The committee heard from Roy Skinner, the father of 29-year-old twins with learning difficulties, who uses the Aylsham centre. He said: 'It is ridiculous to close down campus facilities.

'It would be a disaster to close these down. They provide excellent care to vulnerable people and there are a lot of families who need them.

'Life is hard and stressful enough and we should not have been forced into this situation.'

The Aylsham centre has five respite beds currently used by 34 families from across Norfolk while the Lynn centre has one bed currently used by four west Norfolk families.

Bob Mee, interim director of learning disabilities for Norfolk Community Health Care, told the committee that alternative provision was being looked at.

He said the Kings Lynn centre would close soon but they were yet to be notified of a decision for the Aylsham Centre.

He said: 'We are currently in the process of speaking to patients and carers about how we might deliver respite care for patients with learning difficulties.

'Once we have finished informal discussions about the potential alternatives with the various patient groups, we will be in a better position to ascertain the services required and how we might best deliver them in the future. We would then put forward formal proposals and consult with the service users about these plans.

'Patients and their carers will remain paramount to our on-going discussions and we will continue to work closely with them every step of the way.'

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