The IJB is not for turning

Thomson Court in Rothesay.
Thomson Court in Rothesay.

The new chairman of the IJB has refused to consider reversing its decision to close Thomson Court day centre.

Councillor Kieron Green’s comments came at a public meeting in Dunoon on Monday.

Organised by Dunoon Community Council, it saw three members of the new Integrated Joint Board on the panel, along with local health chief Christina West, Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell, and community council chairman Willie Lynch, along with chair George Darroch.

The meeting began with Ms West and a health partnership officer giving a presentation detailing the partnership’s aims and objectives in general terms.

Mr Russell called for the decision to close Thomson Court and Struan Lodge to be reversed. He said: “This conversation should have taken place three months ago – before decisions were taken.

“The principles of transparency apply to the Scottish Government and all public bodies in Scotland. ‘This decision must be reversed.”

After calls from the floor for the IJB to resign on mass, Mr Lynch asked the direct question of IJB chair Kieron Green: “After what you have heard tonight will you put your plans for Struan Lodge and Thomson Court on hold?”

Councillor Green invoked an angry reaction when he replied: “The process has started. The board is not in the position to micro-manage officers.

“I will monitor the implementation, and if issues arise we will intervene.”

Following the meeting, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, Dick Walsh, has written to Michael Russell MSP, urging for assistance in retaining both Thomson Court and Struan Lodge.

Cllr Walsh said: “Further to the public meeting in Dunoon last night and the unanimous view expressed at the meeting for the decisions taken by the IJB to be reversed I now write seeking your support and that of your government colleagues to ensure that the appropriate finances required to retain the current levels of services, as well as to meet the known cost and demand pressures, are available to meet the needs of our communities.

“In a report going to council in September from the Chief Social Work Officer for Argyll and Bute, the demographic projections show the significant and steady growth in the 65 plus age ranges, and most with an increasing dependency level and demand for elderly care services.”

Cllr Walsh continued: “It is also the case that for care home services and the proportions of elderly people seeking personal care, demand remains also significantly high with an increasing number of our citizens waiting on home care services (2 to 37 in Argyll and Bute) again reflecting issues with care provision in certain areas.

"In residential care in the last three years the overall numbers of admissions have increased slightly in Argyll and Bute terms from a total 550 in 2013/14 to 566 in 2015/16 again reflecting high and increasing demand for services for older people. We have seen supply and demand change here in Cowal in the last four years.

"At the recent Bute and Cowal Area Committee meeting (August 2016) we received an update on the current local service arrangements for care homes which advised on the available capacity and demand for care home services in both Bute and Cowal. That update advised that demand had increased with vacancies during August sitting at ten for Cowal and five for Bute making a total of 15 for both areas.

"If the IJB’s proposal for Struan Lodge progresses then there will be a deficit of provision in Cowal and when you add to this the tensions around sustainability in private sector service provision then the potential scenario will be one of elderly people going outwith their communities for care home services. This threat already exists in certain parts of Argyll and Bute where there are issues around private sector service provisions.

"The importance and relevance of the above to us, is to make it essential that any approach to the future redesign of elderly care needs must critically examine those challenging areas to satisfy any thinking, before concluding what that redesign and models of service would look like for the future."

Monday's meeting also heard from Bute councillor, Isobel Strong, and community councillor, Jean Moffat.

Cllr Strong said: “In Thomson Court we have an excellent service.

“We don’t see how the befriending service will work as well as the service we have just now.”

Mrs Moffat said: “Some dementia behaviour can be extremely challenging – can this be dealt with by a volunteer befriender rather than a trained professional?”

She went on: “The IJB is omnipotent. When the IJB makes a decision it seems the council can’t control it, the NHS can’t control it. That is it.”

The first public question of the evening sought to clarify this.

Christina West was asked which body the IJB is answerable to. “Both the council and NHS Highland”, she responded. “Can either body overturn an IJB decision?” she was asked. “No.” was the reply.

Further questions from the floor raised concern and anger that important decisions had been made without consultation.

Michael Russell was asked what concerned members of the community should do if his request to overturn the closures is rejected. The MSP replied: “The IJB has two options. I still hope that I hear the decision will be reversed. The members of the Bute and Cowal Area Committee should say to the four councillors on the board that they must listen to their communities.

“But – I have been putting it to the health secretary that she should be concerned about this.

“I hope common sense prevails and the IJB admits it got this wrong.”

(With grateful thanks to Gordon Neish from the Dunoon Observer for his assistance with this report)