Respite services to close in Hertfordshire despite objections

Parents launched a petition against the closure of Hixberry Lane respite centre in St Albans. Pictur

Parents launched a petition against the closure of Hixberry Lane respite centre in St Albans. Picture: Sharon Shepheard - Credit: Archant

Three respite centres for adults with disabilities are to close in Hertfordshire – despite hundreds of parents and carers calling for them to remain open.

Currently there are eight short break centres across the county, where adults with physical and learning disabilities can stay overnight - giving family members a vital break from their caring role.

But the county cabinet has decided that three of them - Hixberry Lane in St Albans, Tewin Road in Hemel Hempstead and Apton Road in Bishop's Stortford - would close. The decision comes just weeks after parents and carers presented councillors with a 1,500-signature petition, calling for the plans to be halted and for the county council to work with them on an alternative.

The closures will reduce the overall number of respite beds available by 14 - from 48 to 34 - and council officers have estimated that this could save up to £970,000 a year.

Councillors have been told that too many beds at the centres are empty on too many nights - with data showing that average occupancy at some of the centres was as low as 44 per cent.

Executive member for adult care and health Cllr Richard Roberts said demand for the short break centres had declined, and he said that rather than impacting on provision, the closures would remove 'spare capacity'.

He said: 'The reason for taking this decision is not to remove any service for those on respite breaks at all, in fact service levels will be maintained throughout.'

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Cllr Roberts said that in the next six months - before the closures would be implemented - the remaining centres would be refurbished and users of the service would be individually reviewed.

He said those reviews could consider whether those who used the centres in excess of 100 nights a year would like to live independently in supported living.

And, he said, they could include looking at opportunities provided by the private sector that could offer some 'an even more stimulating experience'.

He acknowledged the concerns of parents, carers and some members of the adult care and health cabinet panel, and said the progress on a number of key points would be reviewed in May. He also stressed that even after the closures no existing user will have to travel more than 15 miles to access a short breaks centre.

Initially the county council had consulted on plans to close Isabel Court, in Hoddesdon, rather than Apton Road in Bishop's Stortford, but they changed the plan in response to an earlier consultation.

This flexible approach was welcomed by executive member of public health and provision Cllr Tim Hutchings, who represents the Hoddesdon North division.

Describing the closure plan as a 'sensible use of resources', he said: 'Clearly the current situation is that we have too many that are underused - we will end up with five very successful units which will run the sort of service that's required.

'I'd like to finish by congratulating officers on this because they went out initially for consultation with a slightly different plan and they have responded positively to the responses that they have got. And I think they have come up with a good solution.'

However following the meeting Jackie Wilks - who presented the petition opposing the closure plans - said she was very worried about the impact the closures would have, and said the consultation had been 'woeful'. Jackie, who has a 26-year-old daughter with learning disabilities, started the petition alongside her husband Andrew and fellow mum Sharon Shepheard.

She said she was frustrated that the county council's short break strategy had not been co-produced in full consultation with the clients from the start, but instead she said she feared it had been too much of a 'desktop exercise', that hadn't taken on board the full impact of the changes on clients.