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Fears for vulnerable Elgin residents over night-time care


By Lorna Thompson


FEARS have been raised that vulnerable Elgin residents could be "left to cope alone" after changes in night-time care provided by charity Cornerstone.

Some relatives of residents with learning disabilities were "outraged" after being informed by Health and Social Care Moray (HSCM) at a meeting, on November 18, of a 12-week pilot scheme to put just one office-based responder on call for three Cornerstone-run Elgin properties between the hours of 10.30pm and 7am.

Currently the residents in each of the houses can rely on the presence of night-time "sleeping" staff.

The Moray Integrated Joint Board (MIJB) approved the pilot at its meeting on August 29 as an "innovative" alternative.

A HSCM spokesperson said this week the "existing model of sleepover support is not sustainable".

Under the pilot, telecare sensors such as pressure mats will be put in place based on individual need. The sensors will be linked through the community alarm system to the 24-hour alarm call centre, which would alert the responder, who will be based at a property five minutes away. The pilot, which is planned to run after Christmas, will take place across the three houses supporting 11 people.

The pilot is designed in two six-week phases. During phase one, the sleeping member of staff will remain in place and any overnight response will be provided by a responder. The sleeping overnight staff will be removed during phase two.

One mother said the decision was a "retrograde step" that "beggared belief".

Elizabeth "Libby" Mitchell, who led a successful campaign to set up specialist palliative care unit The Oaks in Elgin in the 1990s, said: "I'd say, at what price safety? It isn't just. I'm frightened for the safety of my son.

"Next thing they'll be getting robots to look after them.

"The decision has been in the planning for some time it seems before it came to relatives. They are saying 'this is happening – tough'.

"It's so cruel. My son can't cross a road by himself. Now, they're leaving him with nobody to take care of him.

"I took the train from Aberdeen to attend the meeting and I cried half the journey home on the train. I've never encountered such closed minds and hard hearts."

Ms Mitchell, formerly of Elgin and now living in Aberdeen, worked closely with the late Nick Baxter, who pioneered community care in Scotland founding Cornerstone in Aberdeen in 1980. She said Mr Baxter would be "turning in his grave".

Cornerstone's base at Commerce Street in Elgin. Picture: Eric Cormack.
Cornerstone's base at Commerce Street in Elgin. Picture: Eric Cormack.

Elizabeth McKay, from Inverness, has guardianship of her cousin, who is supported by Cornerstone at one of the houses.

She said: "My cousin has needed 24-hour care since the day she was born. She is totally dependent on other people.

"I'm outraged by this plan to do away with the night-time carer. These are vulnerable people being left on their own.

"What if the fire alarm goes off? Would she even wake up with a fire alarm – as some of them have to take a lot of medication?

"What if an accident happened? What if people came to the door?

"It's disgusting. I've never heard anything like it."

Mrs McKay said her cousin had difficulties in communicating and required help to cut up food.

A HSCM spokesperson said: "HSCM must ensure its finite resources are used efficiently and effectively for the provision of health and social care services for the benefit of all service users.

"The availability of care staff is an ongoing issue in Moray and the existing model of sleepover support is not sustainable.

"There are currently 18 sleepover staff and eight waking night staff provided every night in Moray for people with learning disabilities. Staff presence in a person’s home has to be considered sensitively and should only be used where there is a clearly identified need and purpose. The overnight responder service pilot is an opportunity to explore an alternative means of maximising independence for those individuals for whom it is safe and appropriate to do so.

"The safety and wellbeing of all service users is our paramount concern. Risk assessments have been completed for each person by social workers in consultation with Cornerstone staff who know the individuals well. All three houses are linked to a fire alarm system and have sprinkler systems fitted."

Cornerstone successfully operates an overnight responder service in other parts of Scotland.

The spokesperson added: "This pilot has the potential to free up care staff to work during day time hours, thus ensuring there is staff intervention when it is absolutely required."

A report in August by Charles McKerron, interim integrated services manager at HSCM, said the cost of the delivery of night-time care in Moray for people who have a learning disability is £18,561 per week – £965,172 a year.

Ms Mitchell has approached local politicians on the issue. Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said: "The interests of the residents must come first and it is essential that parents and carers are confident that the measures are in the best interests of their loved ones and are not being imposed due to budgetary constraints."

HSCM added: "We are currently engaging with families to listen to and respond to their concerns."



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