“It’s the only thing that gives me hope” – this is what one young man said of the statutory day care centre for people with mental health issues and learning difficulties which he attends, one of three such centres across Belfast, all of which are threatened with closure. At a meeting hosted by Unite, NIPSA and Unison, other service users and their families spoke of the central role the centres play in their lives, providing vital support and allowing them to develop friendships.
Pat Lawlor – Socialist Party member and NIPSA organiser in the Health Trust – told the meeting that, like many other services, the day care centres have been consciously run down to pave the way for closure, with referrals falling dramatically since 2008. The Belfast Health Trust plans to outsource the services currently provided by the centres – Whiterock, Everton and Ravenhill – to the community and voluntary sector. In reality, this is simply about cutting costs by having staff on poorer terms and conditions and will have a disruptive impact in the lives of vulnerable people and their families.
This model has failed in residential care. Over recent years, the Health Trusts have been running down and closing public sector residential care homes and promoting the development of private, for-profit homes. Recently, Four Seasons Health Care has announced the closure of seven homes across Northern Ireland due to a lack of profit. Now, 250 residents are faced with finding a new place to live and 393 staff face losing their jobs. In response. Health Minister Simon Hamilton has now been forced to consider halting the closure of a further ten public sector homes to deal with the situation. All our health and social care services should remain fully in the public sector and be fully funded through taxation of the super-rich and big business.
The attitude of senior Health Trust management towards service users was described as arrogant. A consultation process is ongoing until 10th December but, unfortunately, this is likely just a rubber-stamping exercise where the views of service users and their families will be heard but ignored. The mood of those attending the meeting was clear, though – they are determined to fight to save these day centres.
A protest will be held on Thursday 3rd December, 5pm at Belfast City Hall, to publicly launch the campaign in the run-up to the close of the consultation process and the Health Trust meeting on 14th January which will decide on the fate of the centres. Similar campaigns to defend residential care homes and other services have forced u-turns from politicians and management. Everyone should rally around this campaign and demand that the Assembly politicians deliver adequate funding for these services, not tax cuts and handouts for big business.