Hammer blow as report says Conisbrough care home should shut

Irene Jones, 81, who is a resident of Rowena House Care Home in Conisbrough.
Irene Jones, 81, who is a resident of Rowena House Care Home in Conisbrough.

Campaigners fighting to save an old folks home from closure were dealt a hammer blow this week after experts advised council chiefs to close the facility.

Conisbrough’s Rowena House is one of seven council-run care homes set for the chop across Doncaster.

A report by the department which looks after the borough’s elderly residents yesterday said the facilities should be closed to help Doncaster Council save £109 million to meet Government-imposed budget cuts over the next three years.

The document will be handed to Mayor Ros Jones and members of her cabinet ahead of a meeting next week when they will make a final decision on the proposal.

This latest move will come as a major blow to more than 24, 000 people who have signed a petition calling for the care homes to remain open.

Rowena House resident Irene Jones, 81, has previously joined protesters outside the home and said: “Where am I going to go? I like it here, I feel free and safe. I really don’t want to go anywhere else.”

Retired electrician Brian Boyes, 78, of Conisbrough, who had a friend in Rowena House, said: “Elderly residents get settled where they are. They should not be moved from place to place after a certain age.”

In his report, Pat Higgs, assistant director of adult social care, accepted that residents are “overwhelmingly against the closure of care homes adding: “There is little appetite for relatives to move their family members to alternative accommodation in the independent sector.”

But he recommended the cabinet should decide to close the homes for a number of reasons.

His report said the demand for care home beds has reduced and many are left vacant as residents are going into residential care later in life and having shorter stays. At Rowena, 11 of the 36 beds are empty.

He added the council “bears a significant cost to operate these homes” and a phased closure of the care homes will save the authority more than £1.9 million.

The report states the council should put more resources into helping elderly residents live more independently in their own homes for longer by extending initiatives such as extra care housing schemes.

Should the cabinet agree to close the homes, the authority would try to redeploy or find alternative employment for the 302 members of staff affected.

The report concluded that the closure programme “enables the council to shape a new service offer in widening the choice and options for people to live independently, thus avoiding a move into residential care when their needs can be met in other ways and in their own home.”

In addition to the care home closure, Conisbrough is also due to lose its Social Education Centre to meet budget cuts.

Carol Murden, 68, of Balby, who takes her son Carl to the day centre, fears she may be forced to put him into care when the facility closes its doors. She said: “These cuts are having a disastrous effect on families.”

Members of campaign group Caregate handed in their thousands strong petition at an ‘extraordinary’ meeting of the council last Friday. Caregate spokeswoman Michelle Bailey said the group will apply for a judicial review unless the council has a last-minute change of heart. She added: “There comes a time when people step over a line, when their actions are not acceptable. Your proposal to close the council care homes is such a line.”

Her comments preceded a debate over the proposed closures, triggered by the number of signatures collected by campaigners.

Speaking in the debate, Mayor Ros Jones said: “We will listen to what councillors and campaigners have to say, and we will do what we think is best to deliver to care to people in this borough, now and in the future.” Representing Sprotbrough and Doncaster Conservatives, councillor Jonathan Wood put forward an alternative motion to the proposed closures stating: “We call upon the mayor and cabinet to step away from any intention to close council run care homes.”

But councillors voted against the motion with a majority of 37, with 14 voting in favour of it. Conisbrough’s Labour councillor Craig Sahman also delivered a motion reiterating the council’s dedication to protecting adult services, which was carried.

The cabinet is due to make a final decision on the closure plans at a meeting on Wednesday, June 25.