COUNCIL bosses have been accused of “deliberately running down” a specialist dementia centre in South Tyneside to push ahead with a new £9m health complex in the borough.
Earlier this month, council chiefs awarded a contract for an Integrated Care Services Hub – to be built by South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust – in the grounds of the borough’s District Hospital.
The 80-bed building is seen as crucial to how the borough deals with both an ageing population and an increasing number of people affected by dementia, and work on the new building is set to start later this year, with completion earmarked for early 2016.
But the plan means the closure of the existing council-run Connolly House, in Reynolds Avenue, Whiteleas, South Shields.
Supporters of the 30-bed home fear for the future of the residents and staff, and claim it has been allowed to be run down over the last two years – suspending emergency admissions and respite care.
Jeff Finnon, a member of the Friends of Connolly House, said: “The service has been deliberately run down. It makes no sense.
“They have stopped admitting people, and are sending those who would normally go to Connolly House to private homes instead, losing income in the process. They must have wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last two years.”
He added: “There are 30 beds at Connolly House and, at the moment, there are something like only 12 of them filled. It simply doesn’t make sense.”
Mr Finnon also believes the council has produced “dubious figures” to justify the home’s closure.
He said: “All the patients sit in one wing to watch TV, then they are all moved to a different wing to have dinner, because the roof leaks.
“We were told it would cost £55,000 to repair the leak, but for that you could cover the whole roof.
“They said it would cost £70,000 for a new central heating boiler, but you can get four combi-boilers for £15,000.
“They want to portray the home in a worse position than it really is. They don’t appear to want to listen.”
Staff at Perth Green House in Jarrow – which is also to close – will be transferred to the new facility at the district hospital.
But staff at Connolly House have received no such assurance – with posts being shed through voluntary redundancies and early retirements.
Mr Finnon, whose 90-year-old mother is a resident at the home, added: “Connolly House offers an excellent quality of the service and ratio of staff to patients. They don’t need disruption at their stage of life.”
The Friends of Connolly House are hoping for an early meeting with the council’s acting head of adult social care, Louise Carverhill , who has just replaced the outgoing Jane Robinson.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “After long and extensive consultation, cabinet took a decision in 2010 to close Connolly House and look to offer an enhanced service for older people in the borough.
“It was agreed that Connolly House remain open until a new model of delivery for dementia care was in place.
“The council recently announced that a contract for a £9m state-of-the-art centre is to be built in South Tyneside, which will house a range of health and social care services and provide modern, high-quality support to vulnerable adults and their families.
“The welfare of our Connolly House residents remains of paramount importance to the council, and we have spoken individually with families to keep them up to date with developments. Discussions also continue with staff and trade unions.”