The profoundly disappointing news from County Hall this week at the closure of our outstanding rehab care home, Firwood House, in Hampden Park, has caused shockwaves across the town.
I am pleased East Sussex County Council at least listened to my pleas and those of the 10,000 residents who signed a petition opposing the original proposal to close ‘both’ Milton Grange and Firwood House, and that Milton Grange was spared but their decision to shut Firwood House is awful. Apparently all it’s rehabilitation services are to be squeezed into Milton Grange, which is also a nonsense. There is simply not enough space available. It’s an absolutely shocking decision to close such a first-class care home with such an enviable reputation for ensuring patients maintain their lives independently in their own homes, as well as aiding their recovery, post-admittance to the DGH. This also reduced the bed-blocking. I have asked the three Eastbourne Conservative County Councillors; Cllrs David Elkin, Colin Belsey and Barry Taylor to consider their position. It is clear to me and to do many others that by either voting in favour as Cabinet members or not opposing it publicly, they’ve put party allegiance ahead of the needs of our town. I am not impressed. I was also contacted earlier in the week by a constituent who told my office - word for word - that our campaign had received support from the Duke of Devonshire himself. His appreciation and links to Eastbourne go back more than 100 years. They told me he’d written: “I have every sympathy with your great concern about the possible closure of Milton Grange and Firwood House. I know how valuable they are to Eastbourne and how well used and much loved they are. I am delighted to see that Stephen Lloyd MP is actively campaigning for the saving of the two care homes. I only hope that East Sussex County Council will be able to find the money to allow the homes to continue their great work.” I was grateful for this intervention and have written back to the Duke informing him of today’s woeful decision by ESCC. I’ll also be writing to the chief executive of the CQC (Care Quality Commission) and the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, urging they commission an independent audit. A sad day for Eastbourne.
Last week also saw the publication of Bishop James Jones inquiry into what took place decades ago at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital. The inquiry concluded that more than 450 patients had died early and unnecessarily after being given opiate drugs. The findings went on to say there was a “disregard for human life” of a large number of patients from 1989 to 2000. I welcomed the report, shocking that it was, as I’d been supporting a local constituent Mrs Gillian Mackenzie, who lost her mother Gladys Richards suddenly in 1998. Mrs Mackenzie first raised the alarm 20 years ago but was fobbed off, and let’s be clear what really happened here, over 450 people on one ward i were unlawfully killed. No if’s nor buts. The relatives got the truth, at last, from Bishop Jones’ Report last week but they now demand, and deserve, justice. I have written to the Prime Minister asking her Government appoint a police force to begin a criminal investigation into the report’s findings. Mrs McKenzie, brought to me her suspicions and research into the deaths at Gosport 10 years ago. Now the truth is out, it must not end there. The relatives deserve their day in court, and those who perpetuated these awful deeds must face the consequences.
Months ago I reported the story of a local couple who, because they’d reached the age of 75, their bank, Santander, which has an age limit for interest-only mortgages, were likely to force them out of their home. To be fair to the bank, they’ve since backed off and efforts are now being made to solve the problem, which is good news. It became clear to me though, that this was a national issue and not just a local one. So over the last few months I’ve had a series of meetings up in Westminster, with the relevant treasury minister, Santander itself, the banking trade association, and this week with the Building Societies Association. Everything is now in place for a round-table conference I’ve organised in Westminster for the big banks and lenders to attend. I’ve learnt there are around 100,000 households across the country, on interest-only mortgages over the age of 68, so if the industry doesn’t come up with a solution the battle I fought will be replicated up and down the UK. Watch this space!
It’s great to welcome back our annual tennis tournament to Devonshire Park this week. I’m visiting on the Saturday and looking forward to seeing not just the tennis but all the happy visitors. I had a meeting this week with an organisation called the Centre for Entrepreneurs and they were outlining how the many seaside towns around the country which have suffered so grievously over the last 40 years economically could be turned around. I brought them up to speed with what we’d done to buck that dire trend and they were very impressed. So as I enjoy the sunshine and atmosphere on Saturday I will be reminded of just how much of every day of every week of every year, I consider it to be an enormous privilege to be your MP.
That’s it folks. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you around town.