Moved to tears

Moving home is stressful enough at any age but for older people
it can be life-threatening. Ruth Winchester talks to one older
resident who tried to challenge her council’s right to transfer its
care home residents.

Florence Hands spent last Friday in the Birmingham care home she
has lived in for the past five years. But meanwhile, at the high
court, judges made a decision about her life that could affect the
lives of tens of thousands of older people across the UK.

Flossie Hands is 89, wheelchair-bound, almost deaf, and very
happy where she is, thank you. But her relatives and friends
believe that her life, and those of residents at more than 30 other
care homes run by Birmingham Council, are hanging in the

The cash-strapped council, faced with stringent new standards
for care homes, is attempting to find another way to fund the
necessary repairs and improvements. But its choice – to switch
ownership of its residential care homes to a new trust – would
effectively mean Flossie Hands and the 30-odd other residents of
her home would have to move. While moving home is stressful for
anyone, for frail and sometimes confused old people it can be

However, on Friday, the high court judge dismissed Flossie
Hands’s application, on behalf of residents in all 33 council-run
homes, for a judicial review to investigate whether Birmingham made
its decision in a reasonable way. Her case was that such a move
would infringe her right to life, and her right to family life,
because she would lose her established contact with care staff and
residents, her routine, her security and her peace of mind.
Estimates vary, but the danger of moving old people is widely
acknowledged, with some experts arguing that a significant
percentage will die prematurely as a result of major

Flossie Hands’s feelings about the home are clear. “I love it
here,” she says quietly, clear blue eyes looking at her daughter
Anita. “They’re very nice here. I don’t want to move.”

Over the past five years, Flossie Hands has developed a good
relationship with staff, and particularly her keyworker, Liz
Bayliss, who acts as an informal advocate and will run errands and
buy gifts on her behalf. But she finds disruption difficult. Even
the prospect of moving down the corridor for a few days to allow
her room to be redecorated was traumatic, and left her tearful and
unsettled. Many other residents, who are aged between 50 and 101,
also fear the future. And for those with dementia, change of any
sort is deeply unsettling.

Flossie Hands’s life story has all the makings of a Dickens
novel. Born on 21 December 1912, she was the eldest of five
children who were left orphaned when their mother died in
childbirth. The group were packed off to a children’s home, where
an accident left Flossie Hands with a lifelong limp. She grew up in
the home, looking after her brothers and sisters, until she was
found a foster place on a farm, where she was treated as an extra
pair of hands rather than a member of the family.

In her early twenties, in 1936, she married Alfred John Thomas
Hands (Alfie) and they had two children, Brian and Anita. She has
worked all her life – during the war in a munitions factory making
bullets and later for a company making electrical goods.

After retirement, she and her by then disabled husband moved to
a bungalow near Florence Hammond house, the care home she now lives
in. She looked after her husband for many years, and after Alfie’s
death she continued to live independently for five years. But
finally she acknowledged that she needed help, and the council
quickly found her a place in Florence Hammond.

Flossie Hands’s feelings about the centre that has been her home
for the past five years are clear – she feels safe, looked after,
familiar with routines and people, and secure. But the spectre of a
move has been hanging over the heads of all residents since
Birmingham started to look at the future of its residential care
stock. While visitors attempt to keep most of the battle hidden
from their elderly relatives, many feel angry that the possibility
of a move is casting a shadow over what should be a peaceful and
secure last few years of life.

Flossie Hands’s daughter Anita says that morale in the home
among staff is low, that residents are anxious about the idea of a
move, and that the council’s estimates of the cost of bringing the
home itself up to standard are ridiculously high. She and her
husband Greg have spent almost four years going to frequent
meetings, doing their research and challenging the council over its
plans. They feel Birmingham is failing to tell the truth, and that
the health and happiness of vulnerable old people are being shunted
aside to let the accountants do their sums.

Flossie Hands is the last of the five children who survived
early catastrophe to become useful, productive and responsible
members of society. She is angry that she has worked hard all her
life, that she has spent so much time devoted to the care of others
and that she has been self-sufficient for so long only to be made
to feel disregarded and unimportant when she needs gentleness and

Anita and Greg were justified in their pessimism that the court
would not back Flossie Hands. Birmingham Council, they felt, had
far more clout, and more resources than a motley band of worried
relatives. They were conscious of taking on the combined forces of
a large metropolitan authority, and some firmly established
government policies. Birmingham Council, for its part, believes it
has no option if residential care in the area is to be raised to a
sufficiently high standard but to move the residents.

In the meantime, the people living in Florence Hammond house are
disappearing, one by one, from view.

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