Council chiefs have suggested the closure or sale of a Bristol care centre for older people to look after them when they come out of hospital. A year after the shock closure of the South Bristol Rehab Centre was first revealed by Bristol Live, now council chiefs are proposing to ‘review’ the future of the East Bristol Intermediate Care Centre, with the ‘intention to offer’ it to alternative providers, or close it altogether.
The proposal is listed as a saving in the council’s budget consultation, which is asking taxpayers in Bristol what they think of a range of proposals to plug a £43 million gap in the City Hall finances.
The consultation suggests that closing or transferring the care centre, which is based next to Troopers Hill in St George, would save the council £400,000 in the next financial year, and another £500,000 the year after – a total of £900,000 over the next two years. The council’s own consultation acknowledges this would affect the elderly. “The majority of the services are older people,” the council’s document states. “Further equality impact is under way to identify and address any disproportionate impact for service users.”
The council’s description of the proposal states that the centre provides care and accommodation for 17 adults at any one time, who stay for up to six weeks to ‘help them to be independent after a hospital admission or illness’. “This is a discretionary service offered by the council,” they said.
NHS bosses and politicians have, for months and years, explained that much of the crisis in the NHS at the moment, apart from a shortfall in the numbers of doctors, nurses and care staff, is down to the issue of delayed discharge, or ‘bed-blocking’. This is where patients – often elderly – are medically fit to be discharged from hospital, but have no care plan in place for the extra care they might need at home, so remain in hospital, and causing a shortage of available beds for those being admitted to have operations or through A&E. That then leads to a crisis at A&E, where there is no beds to move people on who have been admitted, so ambulances have to wait for hours with patients inside, queueing to be treated.
When Bristol City Council announced the closure of the South Bristol Rehab Centre, a similar facility in Inns Court in the south of the city, council chiefs said they were looking at why the council still ran this sort of ‘step-down’ care facility for people who were leaving hospital.
The justification in closing the South Bristol Rehab Centre was that private health provider Sirona had started running a similar facility within the NHS South Bristol Hospital, but carers who worked there protested against the closure, and said the council chiefs had been disingenuous in promising that their jobs would be transferred to the Sirona unit. Union leaders said the way workers were treated was ‘appalling’, and forced council chiefs to apologise and promise a review and investigation.
At the time, union leaders in Bristol flagged that the East Bristol centre would be next on the council’s hit list. Back in May, Unison branch secretary Tom Merchant, speaking on behalf of the carers working at the council’s care centres, told Labour mayor Marvin Rees’s cabinet: “I’m speaking up for East Bristol rehab centre rather than South Bristol, which was a bit of a fire sale. We had a situation where you take a department and basically give staff to somebody else, which is humiliating. That’s a fire sale, that’s over, but East Bristol isn’t.”
He said at the time the report to Bristol City Council cabinet mentioned there was “consensus” that the local authority should no longer provide in-house rehabilitation services and that the NHS was better placed for this, which would “dismay” staff. Mr Merchant said the East Bristol unit, had much better facilities than South Bristol.
Back then, Cllr Helen Holland apologised to the carers who worked at the South Bristol Rehab Centre, and promised: “The future of East Bristol has not been decided yet and the circumstances will be completely different.” Now, East Bristol is one of the things ‘on the table’, after Mayor Marvin Rees announced ‘everything was on the table’ back at the start of November.
During a cabinet meeting, on Tuesday November 1, Mr Rees said: “Not only are individuals and households facing these unprecedentedly challenging challenges of just living, but those very organisations that are most needed in times of this kind of crisis are also facing challenges of just operating. With inflation in wages, heating bills, food supply, materials for the infrastructure we’re trying to build like housing, it’s an incredibly challenging time.
“It looks at the moment like a best-case scenario of around £37 million in savings for 2023–24, that’s about 10% of our budget. Worst-case scenario goes north of £62 million. At the moment, we are just about to go out early next week to the public with a number of proposals that we have to take to you to talk about how we balance our budget.
“There are no longer any red lines. There is no pain-free future available to local government anywhere in the country right now. Whereas we would talk with absolute commitment on our libraries, our children’s centres, our council tax reduction scheme, travel to school, everything is now on the table,” he added.
By mid-November, the figure the council needed to save was narrowed down to around £42 million. The Mayor of Bristol, whose administration recently pledged £15 million for more work to investigate the development of an underground system for Bristol, lost £43 million on Bristol Energy and are spending £107m on rebuilding the Bristol Beacon, said he had to ‘make the council smaller’.
“Councils are underfunded and the government shows no partnership with city leaders to design services and places that support a financial crisis,” he said. “As a result, we have to balance a substantial shortfall in our funding and we must make the council smaller, do less and focus on our priorities, while making yet further efficiencies. Over a decade of austerity and failing Westminster financial policies have landed a situation at our door that we cannot entirely shield the city from. These savings proposals put forward the harsh reality of that challenge.
“If we are to continue to meet out statutory obligations including providing housing, delivering care for the elderly and disabled, creating school places and helping people through the cost of living crisis, we are going to have to be prepared to let go of some of the things we’ve fought hard to protect over the past six years,” he added.
POLITICS: To keep up to date with latest Bristol politics news, and discuss thoughts with other residents, join our Bristol politics news and discussion here. You can also sign up to our politics newsletter here.