Plight of Edinburgh 91-year-old who faced being abandoned at home without care raises questions about care home closure plan

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The plight of a bed-ridden 91-year-old woman who faced being abandoned without care because of staff shortages has raised fresh questions about plans to close five Edinburgh care homes.

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The family of Helen Neilson, who needs visits by carers to her home four times a day, was told the private company providing the service could no longer do so and there were no care home places available.

An alternative care provider was eventually found for Mrs Neilson.

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Helen Neilson faced being abandoned without care in her own homeHelen Neilson faced being abandoned without care in her own home
Helen Neilson faced being abandoned without care in her own home

But health bosses in the Capital are proposing a major shake-up of care, which includes closing five council-run homes and increasing the number of people receiving care in their own homes.

Public service union Unison says there is a chronic shortage of staff to provide care at home, both among the private companies contracted by the council and in the council itself.

Unison assistant branch secretary Gerry Stovin said several private care companies had withdrawn from the market and handed their clients back to the council and another had notified the council within the last couple of weeks that it will be doing the same.

The shortage is attributed partly to Brexit and an exodus of European staff working in the sector and partly to the “Tesco effect” – the fact that jobs on similar or better pay are available in supermarkets.

Mr Stovin said at the same time the council, which pays its staff more than the private companies, was running down its care at home workforce through non-replacement when people leave.

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And he warned the strain on the system was reaching breaking point. “Unless the council have a back-up of extra staff and extra beds in care homes it can just all collapse overnight.”

Leith Labour Gordon Munro also voiced his concern about the staffing shortage highlighted by Mrs Neilson’s case.

“Care at home is a meant to be a replacement for the care homes proposed for closure, so how does that sit with this shortage of staff?

"This shows how badly thought out this proposal is when the proposed solution is a problem before they even start. It’s time to halt this now and work with the unions for a properly worked out solution."

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Four homes are proposed to close because the buildings are said no longer to be suitable – Clovenstone, Fords Road, Ferrylee and Jewel House. Edinburgh Integration Joint Board, which oversees health and social are, has already agreed a fifth, Drumbrae, will close as a care home and become an NHS critical care assessment unit.

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Bed-ridden 91-year-old Edinburgh woman faced being abandoned unable to feed or w...

A spokesperson for the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership said with increasing demand for specialist care the closure proposals aimed to achieve the right balance in the type of care provided.

“We’re also very aware of the significant challenges in care at home nationally at the moment due to reduced staffing which is also being experienced by other industries following the pandemic and our exit from the EU. We’re seeing more and more people coming to us for an assessment of need and a service and as a result we’re trying to do more with less. This may mean us working differently and we and our care providers will be communicating with people that have care and support and their families about any changes me need to make.”

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