East Sussex adult social care cuts on schedule

A protest against closing Milton Grange and Firwood House. Although the former was spared, the latter was not
A protest against closing Milton Grange and Firwood House. Although the former was spared, the latter was not

Cuts of more than £9.5m to East Sussex adult social care services are expected to be in place by the end of 2019/20, a senior councillor heard this week. 

On Wednesday (June 26), Carl Maynard, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for adult social care, heard an update on the progress of the changes, which were approved in June 2018 as part of the council’s 2018/19 budget. 

Firwood House closed last year

Firwood House closed last year

According to meeting papers, £4.8m of the cuts came into force within 2018/19, while the remaining £6m have been put in place this financial year.

Praising council staff for the work, Cllr Maynard said: “I think praise ought to be given, not just to the senior staff for the huge amount of effort that has been required to get us to where we need to get to in terms of savings, but also to the adaptability of staff across the piste, for the way they have responded to pretty challenging times.

“I think they have been as adaptable as they possibly can be.”

Cllr Maynard’s comments were echoed by Anghared Davies (Con, Northern Rother), chairman of the council’s people scrutiny committee. 

She said: “I don’t think we ever thought, when we were going through the savings, that they would be achieved in this way.

“It is very commendable that the savings have been made, because it was a huge amount and a real challenge.”

The effects of the cuts have been spread across a number of county council services, seeing the closure of the HIV support service and significant reductions to its learning disability service. 

A total of 131 council staff were made redundant as a result of the cuts – 129 of which were voluntary, according to council papers. 

Most staff working in the learning disabilities service, meanwhile, have seen their hours reduced as part of the wider changes to how the service is run.

The cuts also saw the closure of older people’s day services at the Charter Centre in Bexhill and the Isabel Blackman Centre in Hastings, both of which had been commissioned from the Sussex Community Development Association (SCDA). 

A third day service at the Phoenix Centre in Lewes did not close, but is now being run by the council directly rather than by the SCDA.

The council-run Warwick House Day Centre in Seaford also closed its doors, with service users moving on to places at Eastbourne’s Milton Grange or the Phoenix Centre instead. 

Eastbourne also saw the loss of intermediate care beds for respite and rehab patients at Firwood House in Hampden Park.  

Extra beds were added to Milton Grange as a result, council papers say, but the changes have seen the number of mental health intermediate care beds drop from 18 to 10, as a result.

The loss of these beds prompted concerns from Cllr Davies, who asked what impact it had had on NHS services.

In response Keith Hinkley, the county council’s director of adult social care, said the loss of the beds had come alongside a ‘change in working practices’ to reduce the amount of time patients spend in intermediate beds before moving to long-term social or community care. 

As a result, there had been a reduction in delays to transfers of care, which mitigates against the impact on NHS services, he said.

Cllr Davies asked about the impact of other services being reduced through the cuts. 

She said: “Although we’ve done this six-monthly review, I’m not sure we have actually gotten to the bottom of the impact on people.”

Cllr Davies’ comments were disputed by Mr Hinkley, however, who said any changes to people’s care were preceded by individual reviews and reassessments.

But he said the overall impact of the cuts meant there is ‘less capacity’ in the system, saying reductions in preventative services would put more pressure on core services in the long term.

Meanwhile, Cllr Maynard criticised the sparse attendance of the meeting, saying it was ‘disappointing’ ward councillors had not attended to share their views. 

He said: “Members have had the opportunity to come along today and ask any questions in an open and public forum. 

“Sadly they have chosen not to do so. I think that is very unfortunate.”