Sad faces that will never be forgotten

PUBLISHED: 09:20 07 December 2001 | UPDATED: 10:59 03 March 2010

AS another care home closes its doors this month, the elderly people of Suffolk will be the ones to suffer.

Health and social services editor Tracey Sparling looks at the emotional and financial costs our senior citizens face, as their once safe and secure worlds crumble around them.

AS another care home closes its doors this month, the elderly people of Suffolk will be the ones to suffer.

Health and social services editor Tracey Sparling looks at the emotional and financial costs our senior citizens face, as their once safe and secure worlds crumble around them.

AS she packed her mother's treasured possessions into a suitcase and drove her away from the home she loved, Sue Titshall knew the sadness in the faces of those left behind, would be etched in her memory forever.

Some had no money, and others no family or friends to sort out their uncertain future.

All they could do was watch, as their friends and trusted members of staff moved to pastures new.

Mrs Titshall said: "The despair and sadness of the remaining ten staff, and the spectre of my mother's friends looking out of the windows, wondering what would happen to them, will remain in my mind until my dying day."

The move from Sun Vale nursing home in Felixstowe, also brought heartache for 88-year-old Linda Hart, who had been there for four years and hoped to live there until the end of her days.

She had had to move against her will, and Mrs Titshall, of Faulkener's Way, Trimley St Mary, said: "She has taken it very badly. She really didn't want to leave. How can you explain to an 88-year-old lady that she's got to move? Put yourself in her shoes..."

Instead of living her twilight days in peace, Mrs Hart is being forced to start a new life, in a strange place amongst new people.

To make matters worse, there aren't many homes to choose from.

Mrs Hart had to move to Maynell House retirement home in Felixstowe, which happens to be more expensive.

Her daughter said: "The council originally offered to pay £261 a week, and she would have had to pay everything over and above that.

"I didn't object to her paying the extra money, but it's the principle that there was no choice in the matter.

"But since I complained about the system social services have assured me they will now be covering the extra charges.

"It's an excellent result for me personally but I think we have to look at the fate of the poor souls who don't have anyone to fight their corner."

She said that many elderly people were stuck in hospital because there is not enough alternative care available, and added: "Is this the caring society, labelling the old and infirm as 'bedblockers' because we as a nation have not invested in provision in the past?

"What use is there in pushing the frontiers of medicine back all the time, enabling people to live longer, if we are unable to cope with an increasingly ageing population?"

By 2021 there will be 12 million people aged over 65, and Mrs Titshall said: "It makes me wonder what's the point of keeping people alive, when the system does not give any quality of life? Some people are still sitting there waiting at Sun Vale, and they've only got until December 14 before it shuts. The council can't make them homeless.

"I may need care one day, and quite honestly, I would rather commit suicide than be humiliated and degraded in this way."

She has written to Suffolk County Council to complain about the lack of care homes, and to insist that it should be responsible for the extra costs.

She said: "I hope they take notice of it, because this could be a test case for other people."

A spokesman for the county council said: "Social Care Services recognises that this is a very distressing time for residents and relatives and since the closure was announced we have been working closely with them to find suitable alternatives homes.

At present 14 residents have been found new homes and have already moved or will shortly be doing so.

We are making very effort to find suitable alternative accommodation for the remaining older residents as soon as possible."

She added: "We have worked closely with Mrs Linda Hart and her daughter to ensure that she has found suitable alternative accommodation in the local area. Mrs Hart is now settling into her new home in Felixstowe.

Many homes have folded across the region this year, but as the Star revealed last week four have been sold to private buyers to avoid closure.

The four were originally advertised for sale through open tender but nobody wanted to buy them, and the council advertised them for sale through private treaty, a method more familiar to private businesses.

Of the others, 14 already meet standards, three are being modernised and kept by the council, and five are being replaced with very sheltered housing schemes.

Now new legislation insists the homes must be modernised – and that will bring fresh pressure to bear on their existence.

All residential home owners, including county councils, have until 2007 to make sure that their residential homes meet legal standards about room sizes and facilities.

Larry Graham owner of Sun Vale, which had 22 residents, could not afford the changes according to the home's manager Percy Turner who said Government changes to rules and regulations were making it impossible to run them as businesses.

Mr Turner said: "Something has got to be done to stop homes closing, because it is becoming ridiculous. A lot of the rules go beyond anyone's comprehension. If someone's happy in their own home, that should be the main consideration."

Speaking at an East Suffolk Community Health Council meeting on Tuesday , John Lewis, director of joint commissioning at Suffolk Health, said the lack of residential and nursing home beds was also one of the main reasons for elderly people blocking hospital beds.

He said: "Suffolk has a higher than average number of people over 75 in acute hospital beds.

"But it's stock of residential and nursing home beds, both publically and privately funded is below average compared to other places."

He said since the Suffolk County Council and NHS Partnership board was set up over a year ago, £500,000 was spent effectively on extra residential care and nursing home places for people coming out of hospital,

He said: "There are clearly some things which can be solved by putting more money into the system," but added: "In West Suffolk, the capacity in residential and nursing home places is used up. The problem has become not just money but beds being there in the first place, and attracting the care staff to work there."

In November, the Government then announced more money to tackle bedblocking and Suffolk got £1.6m and agreed to increase the amount it paid to residential homes in the private sector.

While delayed transfers of care were running at 220-230 since September, last week they were down to 208.

Suffolk County Council stress that, while home closures are a national problem, Suffolk is still faring better than the national trend, with some 6,600 beds.

They also insist that although eight homes closed in the county last year, six were opened and others were expanded.

The Council also has an ongoing £3million programme to refurbish the county's residential homes, and as part of this process, the home in Sidegate Lane, Ipswich, has already re-opened.

Mr Lewis said: "Let's hope we are starting the see the beginning of a downward trend in delayed discharges."

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