Netherwood protesters rail at ‘reckless, underhand bid to shut day centre’

Plans to move 'service users' into a new-look centre in West Hampstead are terrifying for people with dementia, say protesters

Thursday, 11th May 2017 — By Tom Foot

Netherwood protesters

Campaigners outside the town hall. ‘It is not a numbers thing. We are talking about people,’ said one

CAMPAIGNERS are demanding the council scraps its “disgraceful” day centre closure plan.

The Town Hall proposes to shut down services for elderly and vulnerable dementia patients at Rag­lan Centre in Kentish Town, Netherwood Day Centre in Kilburn and Charlie Ratchford Centre in Chalk Farm. It would move all the “service users” into a new-look Kingsgate Resource Centre, in West Hampstead.

The ruling Labour councillors say austerity budgets ordered by the Conservative government have forced them to make drastic changes – but protesters warned at a meeting at the council chamber on Monday night that they are cutting “too far, and too deep”.

Labour candidate Tulip Siddiq has swung behind the campaign to keep Netherwood open. Camden’s only specialist dementia day centre, it has already been saved from the axe twice in recent years.

A Town Hall cross-party scrutiny committee was told by Jane Clinton, of Save Netherwood Day Centre campaign, on Mon­day: “We believe closing this centre based on false information is underhand, reckless and an insult to the people of Camden.

“We fear that ultimately the council’s motivation for closing Netherwood is to sell off the site. Once it is gone, the council will never be able to afford such a fantastic resource again.”

The centre was singled out for praise last month by Alzheimer’s Society vice-president Dr Nori Graham, who has written to the council opposing closure.

The council insists the Kingsgate centre will be a modern facility, but there is no information about what the replacement service will look like, or how it will be run.

Protesters say this makes it impossible for anyone to make an informed decision.

Ms Clinton said the council did not even have the “sketchiest of plans of how this will work”, adding: “The changes would be bewildering, confusing and terrifying for someone with dementia.”

Council officials told the meeting that Netherwood, like all day centres in Camden, was suffering from a “national trend” of elderly people not wishing to attend the centres and to spend their money on other things instead.

But Ines Ferreira, who cares for an adult daughter with autism, told the meeting the council was making ass­umptions about low attendance rates, which had “not been researched”.

Ms Clinton said a whistleblower had told her that referrals were not being made to Netherwood because of the cost of running the service.

Camden strategy and planning director Richard Lewin told the meeting: “The reduction is part of a national trend, and is certainly not a question of the local authority running down centres.”

Kilburn ward councillor Thomas Gardiner presented an alternative plan that he and fellow Kilburn councillors believe could keep Netherwood open while still saving the council more than £400,000 a year.

There was a lively protest outside the town hall building in King’s Cross before the meeting.

Didi Rossi, from WinVisible group, said: “It is not a numbers thing. We are talking about people.”

She questioned how the council had been able to spend tens of millions on a town hall building while introducing fees for disabled people and closing old people’s day centres, adding: “It’s the elephant in the room.”

Protesters chanted: “£45million for a new Town Hall. Disabled people get bugger all.”

Social services chief Councillor Georgia Gould, who will become leader of the council next week, was at the meeting but did not comment.

She has previously said of plans to close Netherwood: “Our focus is on ensuring we provide the best possible support for our older and vulnerable residents with dementia.

“The declining use of day services locally is mirrored both in neighbouring boroughs and nationally, while demand for different kinds of support arrangements through personal budgets is growing.

“We are, however, committed to day centres where they are chosen by carers and users, which is why we are consulting on new proposals, including re-providing Netherwood Day Centre down the road at a rebuilt, state-of-the-art dementia facility at Kingsgate.”

£5-a-trip fees ‘shameful’

STINGING charges for transport and home care will further isolate elderly and disabled people, councillors were warned on Monday. Camden Council is due to bring in a £5-a-journey fee for transport to and from day centres. It plans to charge people on benefits £30 a week for homecare visits.

Gospel Oak resident Robin Brook told councillors: “You are asking us to make impossible choices. We are getting less money, and being charged more. Simply, more people will not go out.”

In a deputation to the health scrutiny committee, Claire Glassman, from women’s campaign group WinVisible, said: “It is shameful that a Labour council is ready to make vulnerable people pay more for care.”

She added that the changes would hit older women and women of colour disproportionately, while increasing the risk of domestic abuse. They would further “undermine” centres like Netherwood that were being “deliberately run down”.

Councillor Heather Johnson told the meeting that there were a “lot of people worried about transport charges” who go to Third Age Project schemes in Regent’s Park. She questioned whether the council had considered the cost of “the alternative of people not going out”.

Council officials were repeatedly asked why it could not follow the example of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, also Labour run, which recently manage to scrap all homecare charges for disabled and older people. Officials told the meeting that Hammersmith’s case was “unique” but could not say why it could not be introduced in Camden.

Scrutiny committee chairwoman Councillor Alison Kelly said there was “huge concern in the room”, adding: “I cannot imagine how people could afford £50 a week to go to a day centre. I would like the council to very much reconsider this as it is highly expensive and disproportionate.”

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