Fears over closure of care centre

The parents of a severely disabled man have voiced their fears over the closure of a valuable centre which provides round-the-clock care for vulnerable people.

The parents of a severely disabled man have voiced their fears over the closure of a valuable centre which provides round-the-clock care for vulnerable people.

Plans have been under way for more than three years to close two Norfolk centres which provide respite care for adults with learning difficulties.

But there are fears that shutting Mill Close in Aylsham and Park View in King's Lynn - part of national guidelines - will lead to many families missing out on vital care as there are still no viable alternatives in place.

Sue Humphries and her husband Stephen, from Caister, have been looking after their son Luke, 25, almost every day and night since he was born.

He has severe learning difficulties, uncontrolled life-threatening epil-epsy and challenging behaviour, and he currently uses Mill Close for three days a month.

Mrs Humphries said: “Luke has a mental age of a toddler but he is 6ft and 15 stone with very complex needs. At Mill Close we know he is looked after properly and he likes it there. We know by the way he communicates that he is happy there and for us it the closest we get to knowing what a normal life is like.

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“We catch up on our sleep and recharge our batteries because looking after Luke is a full-time job. We haven't had a holiday for 26 years and the only respite we get is from Mill Close. We love our son and are so proud of him but the centre is our lifeline and a lot of other families feel the same way. It is a wonderful place and we feel very disappointed about it closing.”

NHS Norfolk, NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney and Norfolk County Council have been talking to patients and carers about the respite care they need for people with learning difficulties.

And the issue was discussed at a Norfolk health overview and scrutiny committee last Thursday where health bosses admitted they were still trying to find suitable alternative provision for those in Norfolk with complex needs.

The Aylsham centre has five respite beds currently used by 34 families from across Norfolk, while the Lynn centre has one bed currently used by four west Norfolk families.

There are concerns that people with learning difficulties may have to pay for new services. Until now the respite care has been classed as health care provided by the NHS but any new facilities will be provided by social services and will be means tested with those families who can afford it having to make a contribution.

Bob Mee, interim director of learning disabilities at Norfolk Community Health and Care, part of NHS Norfolk, said: “We entirely understand the concerns that families have. We continue to work closely with them and involve them as much as possible in our planning for the future.

“The reason for considering change is that Norfolk Community Health and Care will not provide any other adult learning disability services after the closure of its long-stay units during 2010 and will cease to have the clinical management support to ensure this service is safely provided.

“We will continue to provide services at Mill Close, Aylsham, until alternative appropriate services are put in place.”