‘Scandalous’ dementia care cuts under fire

Alexander House in Knaresborough where dementia services are under threat. Below: "Aghast" - Helen Nash, whose father Fred suffered from dementia and stayed at the hospital towards the end of his life.
Alexander House in Knaresborough where dementia services are under threat. Below: "Aghast" - Helen Nash, whose father Fred suffered from dementia and stayed at the hospital towards the end of his life.

DEMENTIA care services in Harrogate could be cut in a move which has been labelled “scandalous” by furious families.

Services at Alexander House in Knaresborough, which provides inpatient and respite care for people suffering from dementia, are under threat of closure.

"Aghast" - Helen Nash, whose father Fred suffered from dementia and stayed at the hospital towards the end of his life.

"Aghast" - Helen Nash, whose father Fred suffered from dementia and stayed at the hospital towards the end of his life.

The last time such a move was mooted, in 2006, a campaign was launched and a petition to save the service was backed by more than 9,000 people.

The most recent proposals, put forward by the district’s mental health trust, have been slammed as “absurd” and “potentially devastating”.

“I’m aghast,” said Helen Nash, whose father, former Harrogate councillor Fred Willis, stayed at the hospital towards the end of his life.

“That home was an absolute godsend to us. It was somewhere he could be safe.”

Responsibility for mental health services was transferred to the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust in June 2011.

Today, the trust will present a progress report to the North Yorkshire Scrutiny of Health Committee detailing plans to close inpatient services.

The report says Alexander House, a 16-bed unit which opened in 1998, only uses an average of six beds.

Its day services, along with those at The Orchard in Ripon and at the Rowan Ward at Harrogate District Hospital, are also under review as user numbers decline.

Chief executive Martin Barkley said that while the building itself would stay open, the trust needed to modernise and put services in line with national strategy.

“Mental health services are changing and more people are now able to receive individualised care and support in their home environment,” he said.

“People want help and support to stay at home and that is what we want to provide in conjunction with Social Services and the voluntary sector.

“We have an assessment and treatment ward for older people at Harrogate District Hospital, which we believe has sufficient capacity to meet the needs of local people.”

The families of those who have relied on the service say such sanctions would be devastating.

“They say six people now, but what about next week, when there will be people knocking on the door?” said Mrs Nash.

“We had to wait and wait and when a place became available we grabbed it with both hands.”

Mrs Nash’s father, Fred Willis, was a Harrogate councillor who represented Pannal for many years. In his final weeks he was admitted to Alexander House for full-time nursing care.

“There are families, like ours, who are desperate for help,” said Mrs Nash.

“My mother dearly wanted to care for him at home but he needed around-the-clock-care. If he wanted to go out he did. Once, he ended up on the Empress Roundabout.

“The first night my dad spent at Alexander House was the first night my mum slept in a year.”

Colin Lake, of Knaresborough, fought to save the service last time it was under threat.

His late wife, Christine, suffered from vascular dementia for 19 years. Although he cared for her at home, she would spend one week out of six at Alexander House in respite care.

“To me it was an absolute lifeline,” he said.

“I wanted to care for her. But the one thing I needed was respite care - I couldn’t have looked after her without it.”

The report will go before the scrutiny of health committee in North Yorkshire today.

Chairman Coun Jim Clark said no date for consultation had yet been set.

“Any consultation would be thorough, on an individual and a formal basis,” he said. “I realise it will be of concern to carers and families.”

l See Opinion, page 10