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Staff at the homes were called to simultaneous meetings to be told of the shock proposals, with those who were not on shift summoned to attend as well.
Four of the homes – Fords Road in Gorgie, which is registered for 36 residents; Clovenstone, which has 35 places; Jewel House in Bingham, registered for 32; and Ferrylee in Leith, which has a capacity of 43 – are said to have buildings which are no longer fit for purpose and would close completely.
The fifth home, Drumbrae, which has 60 spaces and currently provides the only respite care in Edinburgh, would close a care home and become a nursing home, staffed by NHS employees.
A consultation on the proposals will be launched next week, ahead of a meeting on June 22 of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board, which oversees health and social care in the city.
The proposal is for the closures to be phased over an unspecified period and for residents potentially to be transferred to other care homes, though staff said it was also suggested more care could be provided at home.
Staff said it would mean the loss of hundreds of care home beds and the potential loss of hundreds of jobs. A letter they were given stated that "every effort” would be made to retain staff.
Unison, which represents care home staff, said it had been given no advance notice of the plans and pledged to oppose the closures.
Assistant branch secretary Gerry Stovin said: “We were not consulted, it came as a shock – we only found out when someone who was at the meeting phoned up. We will oppose the closure. Closing these homes is winding down public services and there is nothing saying how they will deal with future demand.
"If they close we won’t get these units back – once they’ve gone, these beds have gone, that’s it for good. Everyone says with the ageing population there is growing demand for care home places – how is that going to be met? I’m baffled by this. We were completely blindsided by it.”
The Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership (EHSCP), which involves both the council and the NHS, said all its care homes in the city were looked as part of a review.
And it said if the proposals were approved, there would be a phased implementation, with the timescales varying depending on the care home.
Residents and their families would be offered a choice in their “onward accommodation” which might be in one of the care homes that EHSCP will continue to manage, or another care home in the city.
One care worker who has been employed at the same establishment for more than a decade said: "We are really worried about the future wellbeing of the people we look after - they are in many cases extremely frail and vulnerable and some have very complex care issues.
"Everyone was summoned to a meeting at 11 o'clock on Wednesday and given the news of the closures. It wasn't presented like it was a possibility, more like 'this is going to happen and this is what we're doing'.
"Some people were very upset. This will affect a large number of residents across the homes. It is over 100 and may even be more than 200. They are closing Liberton Hospital and moving its residents to Drumbrae but that will mean the end of the only respite care facility in the city."
Another staffer, who works at a different home, added: "This is really bad news. Hundreds of vulnerable people will suffer and hundreds of us could lose our jobs.
"I was one of the ones who was not on shift but got a letter telling me to be at work at 11 on Wednesday.
"It came as a real shock. They are closing at least four homes and seem to think that a system of at-home care will work. It just won't. This will end up with more OAPs bed-blocking in hospital because there's nowhere suitable to send them.
"The residents are mainly in our care because they do not have the means to pay for a private home. These cost thousands and thousands of pounds. "
She added: "The way it was all delivered to us made it pretty clear that minds have already been made up and it is happening."
A letter sent to staff at Liberton Hospital, which is already scheduled for closure with the site to be sold for development, outlined plans to transfer the hospital-based complex clinical care (HBCCC) service, currently based at three sites in the city, to Drumbrae care home.
“This would change the function of Drumbrae from a care home to a medically-led facility that is managed at staffed b NHS Lothian. The care home would close, the residents would be accommodated elsewhere and the staff would be redeployed.”
An EHSCP spokeswoman said: “We’re committed to ensuring we give the right support to those in Edinburgh who are unable to live at home and we recognise the incredible care and hard work our care home staff have provided over this past 16 months.
"As part of our strategic plan we are continually reviewing the care we provide across all our services, including our bed-based services, to make sure that we provide the right care, at the right time and in the right place for those who need it.
“As part of our review into bed-based care, we have identified four EHSCP care homes that, from an environmental perspective, have surpassed their design life expectancy and in which we cannot provide care for people with more complex care needs. Although our colleagues continue to provide an excellent level of care within the homes, some of the buildings do not meet the Care Inspectorate design guidance for building better homes.
“At the board meeting on June 22, the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board will consider a proposal to move residents from four EHSCP care homes into new environments that are better designed for their function, and can continue to meet residents’ needs.”
The spokeswoman said where residents had close friend groups with others in their existing care home, efforts would be made to accommodate them together to minimise disruption and support a smooth transition.
“A full consultation would be held with any impacted colleagues to ensure that, where possible, other than location, their current employment arrangements remain the same.”