Learning difficulties: Cornwall families speak out. A special report

Following an investigation that revealed widespread abuse of people with learning difficulties at Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust, families have faced a further blow with Cornwall Council’s cuts to learning difficulties services.

As part of a £3.6 million savings plan in adult social care, the council is to cut day centre provision for people with learning difficulties funded for residential care. It will also introduce a charge of £1.50 for transport to day centres and remove services from all adults assessed as having low-level needs. The changes will be introduced from the autumn.

Cornwall College has also cut some courses for adults with learning difficulties over the age of 19 as part of a realignment of resources.

Abuse investigation
Reg Broad, chair of East Cornwall Mencap, who helped to spark the abuse investigation by the Healthcare Commission, estimates that around 200 people with learning difficulties moving from health care into general services are getting inadequate provision. He is considering a judicial review against the council’s cuts.

Broad says: “There are four main day centres but they can’t cope with many people. There is a lack of facilities for people with physical disabilities including those in wheelchairs. My main concern is that less able people are being isolated from normal services.

“People are being placed in unsuitable accommodation, and the situation is a mess. Social services moves from one crisis to another – it’s all reactive instead of proactive.

“Services are not involving parents enough in assessing people for supported living or advocacy.

“The basics of the Valuing People white paper are not being implemented in Cornwall. The emphasis needs to move away from what service providers want to what people and their carers want.

“The attitude of social services is ‘you’ll take what we give you’ because of limited resources.”

Families in Cornwall spoke to Community Care about their anger at the cuts in services and their anxieties for the future.

Celia Drew and Desmond Drew, both in their 70s, parents and carers of 43-year-old Alan
“Alan has cerebral palsy and a slight mental handicap. He attends a day centre for five days a week. He has been going to the day centre since he was 18, but we wish he could do more as there is not enough stimulation for him.

“The council’s plan to charge for transport to day centres is mad. Alan gets income support and we do not have enough to live on.

“Alan used to go to college for one day a week to study art but the course has just stopped without any consultation. It was independence for him and he had been to college for several years.

“Alan was at a residential school from the age of six to 17. He has lived with us since he left school.

“He gets respite care one week in eight. We would like more respite care but there is nowhere else to go.

“We used to have a regular social worker, but now we do not see one unless there is a major problem since the social worker was pulled to cut costs about ten years ago. We have to be in a desperate situation to see one now.

“We have concerns for Alan’s future as we have no family, but we are told there is nothing for him. We have no confidence in services.

“Our carer’s allowance was taken away when we got our pensions, and that’s very unfair. We are slower as we get older and find it much harder to look after Alan.

“We look after him because he is our child and we love him.”

Galina Thomas, mother and carer of 23-year-old Lara
“Lara gets direct payments for personal care, activities and escorting. She has a private personal assistant.

“I have been ill a lot and can’t cook, so we are getting meals on wheels.

“Lara has health problems but I find it hard to get help. Social services say there is a backlog of people on a long waiting list. I feel we have been marginalised by the system.

“I am only trying to get what Lara is entitled to, and I want to be listened to, not treated like rubbish.”

Donna Welch, mother and carer of 21-year-old Joanne
“Joanne has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. She is also incontinent and needs 24-hour care.

“She goes to a day centre five days a week and gets direct payments. The services Joanne gets are very good, but I had to find out about them myself as there is not much advice on offer.

“I am looking for full-time accommodation for Joanne, but I haven’t found a place yet. I don’t know where to look.

“There isn’t enough respite care. I have asked for it, but there is no funding available.”

Frances Charlton, mother of Paul, who has Down’s syndrome
“Paul is in full-time residential care. He has been there since his father became ill last year.

“I’m not really sure what’s going to happen in the future but at the moment he’s in a nice place and I feel very lucky.

“I hope Paul does not lose his day centre place if the council goes ahead with removing day centre places for people in residential care. I don’t want him to lose what he has.”

‘How Cornwall cuts affect people with learning difficulties’ – more interviews with families on how cuts to learning difficulties services in Cornwall are affecting their lives.

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