John McLellan: Support network cuts will slash local services

Sharing a cup of tea at the Drylaw Neighbourhood Centre, which is losing �43,000 of funding. Picture: Greg Macvean
Sharing a cup of tea at the Drylaw Neighbourhood Centre, which is losing �43,000 of funding. Picture: Greg Macvean
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What do the Alma Project in Craigentinny, the Craigmillar Ability Network, The Drylaw Neighbourhood Centre and the Northfield & Willowbrae Community Services Group have in common?

They are among the 30 groups whose funding from the health and social care services will be withdrawn if a raft of awards and cuts are approved at a meeting of the Integration Joint Board (IJB) tomorrow are approved.

The IJB, the dysfunctional organisation which was meant to bring together NHS Lothian and Council social services under one super-efficient roof, sought grant applications from charities and support groups for and received bids totalling £31m.

Many of those were brand new applications, but most were organisations which had been supported for many years to provide local support services of all shapes and sizes. The applications were put through an exacting assessment process in which the bids were scored and a list of priorities assembled.

The process has been described as “robust and independent”, which is obviously a good thing, but it was also decided that rather than salami-slice individual grants it would be cleaner and quicker to avoid a complicated calculation and instead decide whether an organisation was in or out. In other words, if you were on the list you got your money, if not, nothing and the £31m of requests was whittled down to £14m of awards. The reality of that is that those previously funded groups who have been informed they are on the hit-list now face a financial precipice, but clearly the hardest hit will be the people they help.

Take the Alma Project for example. Operating out of the Craigentinny Community centre, the £28,000 it has received for the past seven years has enabled it to provide therapeutic services for around 70 people with severe mental health issues. A recent evaluation reported a 100 per cent satisfaction rate from its users with the vast majority feeling their mental health had improved as a result. The knock-on of that is that 70 families in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived and often forgotten districts receive respite and feel supported.

For £14,000 the Northfield & Willowbrae Community Services Group (NWCSG) provides a Monday day care facility for 12 dementia sufferers and a Wednesday club for a dozen housebound people, and it would do more if it wasn’t for the limitations of its transport. Its oldest customer is 100 years old. It has received funding since 1975 and in three months’ time they will receive nothing.

The Craigmillar Ability Network has helped over 4000 clients for 16 years, but for some reason is not in the funding for new city-wide NHS Lothian advice partnership which includes similar organisations in Wester Hailes and Granton. The Drylaw Neighbourhood Centre loses its £43,000.

One of the most damning criticisms of the IJB in a recent Audit Scotland report was its record of tackling so-called bed-blocking, where recovered people were stuck in hospital because of a lack of support in the community. “Edinburgh has regularly had the highest number of delayed discharges of any Integration Authority in Scotland,” the report said. “We recommend that improving performance in this area remains a priority.”

Yet services like Alma and the NWCSG are an essential part of the support network which helps get people out of hospital. Cut them off and it cuts the IJBs ability to tackle the bed-blocking crisis.

Meanwhile, by its own admission NHS Lothian faces a £43m black hole in its finances, exacerbated by an £11m shortfall in the money expected from the Scottish Government this year and a rejection of a request for an additional £32m to help tackle waiting lists. And this is at a time when the UK budget will deliver an extra £2bn for NHS Scotland by 2022.

The Scottish Government can criticise the Brexit chaos in Westminster all it likes, but the immediate chaos it should be tackling is in health care.