Former miner Eric O’Brien is entitled to all the comforts to help him in his advancing years. But he admits he is frightened for the future as his care home is one of four earmarked for closure in the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley. Campaigners fear Barnsley could be left without a single council old people’s home following an attack by the Labour-run district council and the town’s NHS primary care trust (PCT).
Widower Eric, 67, who needs a round-the-clock supply of oxygen to combat his emphysema and angina, says he would be dead without the care of the staff at Carlton House. When he had a suspected heart attack a few weeks ago, the care workers called an ambulance which arrived in four minutes and took him to hospital.
Eric said, “The staff saved my life. If I had been at my former house with nobody to look after me I would be dead. This is my home and I don’t want to leave, yet the authorities want people like me to be cared for in their own homes.
“It is disgraceful. They should come and see what the staff do for us here instead of sitting behind desks. They are not bothered about us old people. We are just numbers to them.”
Eric, who uses an electric wheelchair, has only 23 percent lung capacity, caused by his overexposure to dust.
He said, “The staff are loving, caring people. I can go to the park in the summer and to the shops, and I have lots of friends around here. I don’t want to be shoved around from pillar to post in my condition. A woman of 80 was in here for respite care. Within two months of leaving for a private care home she died. Her husband said she couldn’t settle and she wasn’t sleeping or eating.”
Opponents of the closure proposals claim a secret agenda has been operating since the PCT took over the running of seven council-owned residential homes two years ago.
The GMB and Unison unions, which represent staff at the homes, say care workers have told them new residents are deliberately being turned away.
As new residents are not being admitted, the number of spaces at each home rises. Health chiefs can then claim there is no demand for beds.
Henry Rajch of the GMB in Barnsley said, “There will soon be no option left for long term residential care in Barnsley other than the private sector. Where is the choice for people who want to put their loved ones in a council home?”
The PCT and the council recently issued a consultation document on the future of old people’s services in Barnsley. It proposed closing four homes—Carlton House, Steadhaven, Oaklands and Oakwood—and reviewing the other three.
But campaigners fighting to save the homes say Barnsley council and the PCT are lying over the demand for beds.
Staff have been banned from talking to the press, but one care worker at Carlton House said, “We could have filled the home five times over during the last two years.
“There have been more than 20 residents, now we’re down to 13. Only this week we turned someone away. Our residents were in tears when they found out about the closure plans.”
At Steadhaven only eight residents remain after families began moving their relations out, fearful that the home was on the verge of closing.
One employee at the home said, “When the PCT took over they told us we could not take in any more permanent residents. They wanted us to be more about respite and rehabilitation.
“We would have been full if they had not done that. We are constantly getting calls from people who want to know if we have spaces. We have but we can’t help.”
An Oakwood insider said, “Moving old people about like cattle is signing death warrants for some of them.”
Barnsley council took a decision to move towards long term care being provided by the independent sector four years ago.
At a packed public meeting to rally support to keep the homes open, Unison convenor Rachel Hughes said, “We are talking about making the most vulnerable section of our society homeless. It is outrageous. Stability is what old people want. These homes have committed staff. We should not put residents’ care into the precarious hands of the money-hungry private sector. We oppose these proposals for the people who need care now and those who will need it in the future.”