Care for the elderly in Westminster “at risk”

Council says current care contract is too high and will aim to save �1million by bringing in cheaper alternative

THOUSANDS of elderly people in Westminster could be separated from carers they’ve had for years because of council cuts, staff have warned this week.

Westminster Council has ruled out renewing their contract with current care company Housing 21 in a bid to save �1million when it comes to an end on January 31.

At �18 an hour the council says the company is too expensive and are considering five others instead, leaving carers fearing for their jobs and the elderly concerned they will lose relationships built up over years.

Employee Gina O’Connor, 62, assistant branch secretary of the Westminster branch of Unison has spent 26 years as a carer in the borough.

“There will be a change in continuity of care for the elderly,” she said. “The people who come in to do this job may not provide the same service and may not be as good. The people we serve will have the upset of not having the same providers they have had for 10 years.

“It is going to have a dreadful impact on them because they will have nobody to talk to. This is also putting at risk the livelihoods of 360 people at Housing 21 – many of whom are the breadwinners of their families. I’ll be made redundant. The new contractors may want to take existing staff on or they may not.”

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Currently Housing 21 provides 6,900 hours of care to more than 2,000 elderly residents in Westminster every week, spread among 380 staff members, many of whom have served in the borough for more than 30 years.

The residents they care for are all aged over 65 and are uniformly frail – some bed-ridden, some disabled, some with mental health issues and some are very sick or extremely aged.

The Wood&Vale understands staff at Housing 21 were not consulted about the changes and that there was no public investigation into other potential cost saving measures such as a reduction in hours, a pay freeze, or reviewing middle management positions.

Westminster Council insists that there will be no drop in the level of care provided to elderly residents.

Cllr Daniel Astaire, head of society, families and adult services at Westminster Council, said: “Our first priority is to provide the highest standards of care for vulnerable residents in Westminster. Housing 21 have done some very good work, but our contract with them was always due to come to an end in January next year.

“People should be assured, though, that anyone who received social care from Housing 21 and is eligible for services will continue to receive the same level of support and help through our other providers.”

Housing 21 boss Dominic Rothwell expressed his disappointment at not being able to negotiate a new Homecare Services contract with the borough and said he is hopeful the 360 care workers will find employment with the new care services provider.

Meanwhile, health workers across London could be made redundant on Christmas Eve, the Wood&Vale can reveal.

Across London 3,000 NHS workers discovered they will lose their jobs by April 2011 as part of the NHS White Paper plans to shake up the health service – originally the jobs were planned to go over two years.

Unison London health representative Chris Remington said staff will be put on 90-day statutory consultation on redundancy, meaning many workers could be made redundant on Christmas Eve.