Fears are growing for the future of another city council-run rehabilitation centre after the closure of a South Bristol unit was confirmed. Local authority cabinet members apologised for the “heartache” experienced by the 40 staff at South Bristol Rehab Centre who were left hanging on a decision over their jobs for months, which was finally confirmed last week when councillors formally agreed to shut it.
The original plan was for employees to be transferred over to Sirona at South Bristol Community Hospital where the community health provider runs a similar service – care and accommodation for older people leaving hospital before they go home. But a change in circumstances since the original cabinet decision in January – to save £576,000 a year as part of the council’s budget cuts – means the care workers will no longer TUPE over and will either have to apply to join Sirona in a “preferential recruitment process” or be redeployed within the authority.
Unions urged council leaders to offer voluntary redundancy to staff who no longer wished to stay and warned that the city council’s East Bristol Intermediate Care Centre in Summerhill Terrace, St George, which employs 35 people, could be next in line for the chop. GMB senior organiser Rowena Hayward told a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, May 10, that staff at South Bristol Rehab Centre, in Inns Court, had shown “tenacity, pragmatism and dignity” throughout the process.
“They are valued staff and that is why GMB is asking cabinet to look at voluntary redundancy before going through the management-of-change process because these staff have worked tirelessly throughout covid and through this very difficult situation when they’ve been really unclear what was going to happen about their future.” She said many employees felt let down and lessons needed to be learned because the impact on their lives could be “catastrophic”.
“What the council didn’t do was talk to these staff, to the very people at the beginning to actually ask them how they felt and what would be the best possible outcome,” she said. “These predominantly women workers fully understand what the constraints are for the council, so treat them with dignity and respect and please listen to them in the future.”
Unison branch secretary Tom Merchant 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 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, which provides care and accommodation for up to 16 adults for a maximum of six weeks as well as reablement in people’s homes, had much better facilities than South Bristol.
Cabinet member for adult social care Cllr Helen Holland said: “We absolutely recognise that this has been a very unsettling period for our staff. I regret the heartache that this has caused people while they have been waiting for the decision.
“The proposal came from Sirona who approached the city council about TUPEing the staff over into South Bristol Hospital where the rehab is now provided, and that was a recognition of the skills of this staff cohort. Bristol is very unusual in still providing any rehab services in-house. It’s not something we have a statutory responsibility to do and most local authorities closed any such services down a long time ago.
“We can’t afford in the budget situation we’re in to do things that we don’t have to do.” A report to members said TUPE was no longer on the table because Sirona’s staffing shortage had improved so all its beds were now open and the services it would be providing had changed slightly.
Cllr Holland told staff in the public gallery at City Hall: “I want to apologise for the way you feel you’ve been treated. I know it meant a lot to you when Marvin and I came out to the centre to talk to you and I regret you haven’t had that kind of contact from senior managers before.
“To be put in a position where trade unions are asking us to make people redundant is quite unusual. We want to seek to avoid redundancy and to redeploy as many people as possible.
“The future of East Bristol has not been decided yet and the circumstances will be completely different.” She said unions and staff would be consulted as the South Bristol centre closure moved forward and protecting employment in health and social care was “absolutely key”.