Emergency meeting demands Holyrood action on care homes crisis

Laura Owens, the Bonnybridge woman behind what's now a national campaign to save Scottish care homes.
Laura Owens, the Bonnybridge woman behind what's now a national campaign to save Scottish care homes.
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A packed meeting staged today by Bonnybridge woman Laura Owens heard repeated calls for private-owned care homes to be nationalised.

Mrs Owens - whose gran is one of the residents threatened with eviction from her Thornton Gardens home - has in recent weeks seen her initially local initiative become a potentially powerful campaigning organisation backed by the union UNISON.

Homes builder Bield has decided to axe its existing portfolio of 12 care homes, although it appears set to reinvest in high-end and more profitable ventures in future.

At the “emergency meeting” today in Glasgow speaker after speaker lambasted the “disgraceful” and “outrageous” lack of response to the crisis from the SNP administration at Holyrood.

It stands accused of washing its hands of a looming disaster that is already causing huge anxiety for 160 elderly people, but which will ultimately threaten countless thousands.

Two hundred employees are to lose their jobs, and - said UNISON - will on average each receive just £2.500 in redundancy payment.

It’s argued that Bield’s private enterprise failure today will inevitably be followed by others involved in the sector using the precedent to abandon their own ventures.

The main focus of Mrs Owens’ Save Our Bield group is the controversial decision by homes firm Bield to axe its care homes because they are not financially viable.

However UNISON Scottish Organiser John Gallacher dismissed the losses as “paper clip money” - possibly as little as £250,000 across the whole portfolio.

He said the Holyrood regime could easily cover the claimed deficit while trying to figure how to replace a system which “treats people like pieces of furniture to be moved around”.

He slammed the apparent ease with which Bield has been able to put the future of 160 vulnerable elderly people in doubt, without - as he sees it - any challenge from the Holyrood administration.

Meanwhile health secretary Shona Robison is among those most under fire for answering repeated calls for dialogue with “generic letters”.

She, and other Holyrood administration figures, were accused of being plain rude, but also misguided - because what was originally a protest has already become a campaign.

High profile MSPs Neil Findlay and Johann Lamont, the only Holyrood representatives to attend, both said they would do their best to get key Holyrood ministers to acknowledge both the protesters and the danger of a wider crisis.

Laura Owens told today’s meeting she had effectively torn up her pre-written speech and had decided to “speak from the heart”.

“At what point in our history,” she asked, “did we decide that ‘care of the elderly’ and ‘profit’ should appear in the same sentence?”

The whole argument brought to light by the Bield debacle should be about people and not cash, she insisted.

“My gran is 87. and has two children, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren,” she said.

“She once worked as an Avon Lady, then in Tesco, from where she retired at the age of 74.

“She is a real person with a past - and also with a future”.

Now, Mrs Owens said, she is one of the 160 residents set to be driven from their homes with “no consultation, no choice and no respect”.

The main point of the meeting, as publicised on main news channels this morning, was the demand for the SNP government to U-Turn on its lack of action to stop Bield’s closures from going ahead.

But beyond that Save Our Bield also wants the administration to “get off their backsides and admit the economic model for care homes does not work”.

Professor of Social Work and Social Policy Iain Ferguson said: “It is Bield today - but who will it be tomorrow?

“The silence from ministers is deafening”.

One relative told the Falkirk Herald her own experience summed up the present crisis.

She said: “When I last saw my 89-year-old mum she had all her belongings packed in white bin bags - ready to be evicted.

“That is what we are inflicting on elderly people, and it is wrong.”

Bield says it has a five year strategy to quit the care home sector, although talks are ongoing which might see up to four kept open in Fife, Edinburgh and Jedburgh under new providers.

Bield’s housing and care director, Charlie Dickson, said yesterday: “The decision to close our care homes, including Woodlands in Bo’ness and West Port in Linlithgow, is very much a last resort option and the result of a number of complex and varied factors.

“The wellbeing of our residents remains of paramount importance to us and we fully understand how stressful this position is for both them and their families.

“Everything is being done to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible and we remain committed to maintaining the current level of care and support in our homes until residents have found alternative arrangements.”