‘These are human beings in a very vulnerable situation’: Eastbourne families speak out over threatened care home closures

Pamela Cornford and her daughter Annette at her home in Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby)
Pamela Cornford and her daughter Annette at her home in Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby)

Since the news broke that Milton Grange and Firwood House have been threatened with closure, there has been an outpouring of public outrage.

The future of the care homes in Old Town and Hampden Park hangs in the balance in a consultation as part of a county council bid to save money.

A protest against the closures

A protest against the closures

Councillors say the hard truth is the authority has to deal with falling funding and rising demand. They say the idea is to ‘look at the services’ to see how they could be provided differently in the future.

But to date almost 10,000 people have signed a petition, launched on Change.org by Maria Galt, against these plans.

Both facilities have been praised and lauded as vital and irreplaceable –with Milton Grange found to be ‘outstanding’ in its last CQC report, while Firwood House received a high ‘good’.

The town’s MP Stephen Lloyd is encouraging anyone who opposes the proposal to write to him, and he says he has received more than 1,000 letters so far. Mr Lloyd has secured a meeting with council bosses David Elkin and Keith Glazier on the issue.

Julie Murray and her mum Madeline Arnold at her home in Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby)

Julie Murray and her mum Madeline Arnold at her home in Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby)

But what do the people who have actually needed and used the services, or whose lives have been affected by them, think?

The Herald spoke to Steve Cooke and his partner Annette Cornford, whose 90-year-old mother Pamela visits Milton Grange twice a week.

Annette, 56, said these sessions are important as it means they can get out and do the shopping and pay the bills for Pamela, who has dementia and needs care 24/7.

She said,“It would be a shame if it was closed down because people really need it. I don’t even want to think about it. Otherwise she’d be stuck inside seven days a week.

The protest earlier this year

The protest earlier this year

“She’s got me and Steve but there are people who have no family, they don’t see anybody unless they go there. I’m putting my foot down. It’s wrong. Where else would they go? The carers are stretched, nurses are stretched – they need Milton Grange and Firwood House.

“Mum’s worked all her life as a nurse for 70 years. She’s a stubborn lady but she loves it up there. They play old music, bingo, and do physical exercise. She meets people her own age and it keeps her mind active mixing with people that have got dementia as well.

“The staff are fantastic with her. The family can just turn up out the blue without an appointment – there’s not many places that will allow you to do that.”

And her partner Steve said of the proposed closures, “It doesn’t add up and it doesn’t make sense. If it’s not broken don’t fix it. They are doing an exemplary job.

“Where are they going to put all the people that go there? The respite care is essential for the families and the people themselves. It gives everyone a better quality of life. When she comes home she’s smiling, laughing and joking.

“Every single person that goes there has worked hard all their life and shaped Eastbourne to what it is today.It’s a lovely place and a lot of people forget to thank the old people that made it like that.”

Julie Murray’s mother Madeline Arnold, 80, broke her hip in a fall.

She was originally released from hospital around five days after the operation and sent home where she could not even go upstairs to her bedroom. Julie explained she eventually got a bed for her mother in Firwood House.

She said, “She was there about three weeks, they were brilliant with her, it’s a fantastic place. No daughter wants to put her mother into care but when you get there I thought, ‘Wow, this is fabulous’.

“We were welcomed, offered a cup of tea the moment we walked in. From the time she got in there the physios worked on her and had her doing exercises every single day.

“While that was going on they organised everything to be set up at home – hand rails, walking trolleys, commodes, you name it – everything was put in place for mum.

“On the day she was discharged, it made the whole transition to coming home absolutely brilliant. Everywhere in the house is accessible for her.

“It made a 200 per cent difference to what we were sent home with the first time around. To not be able to get up the stairs to bed is unforgivable really.

“Firwood House is worth its weight in gold. It can’t possibly be closed.

“I have nursed all my life, I understand the pressures. But to send elderly people out with nothing in place at home – there’s a fault in the system.

“I was astounded when I saw the news on the Herald Facebook that there was plans to close it. I couldn’t comprehend it. We can’t deal without those places – and the pressures it’s going to put on the hospitals.

“It’s vital care. They have the time and the facilities to get people from the hospital bed to stay there for up to six weeks without charge.

“Mum did so well she was out within three. It would be a complete disaster if that closure goes ahead, for our community and for the dedicated staff that work there. It would be sacrilege.

“These are human beings in a very vulnerable situation, to have a place like that to rely on is paramount.

“Hospitals are very fast turn around, they have to be, somewhere like that fills that gap and gives you the confidence to go forward.”

‘Invaluable’ is the word Jenny Yule used to described Firwood House as she recounted her experience there.

A minister at St Barnabas Church, Mrs Yule was treated at the centre for a lung condition.

The 57-year-old, who had pulminary rehabilitation last spring, said, “I certainly felt it was beneficial, learning about the condition and how to manage it. They give advice as far as how to use equipment to help with breathing and clearing the lungs and not to panic if you become breathless.

“It’s good to be with other people that are also suffering the same thing. When you are initially diagnosed it’s almost the end of the world. But knowing there are other people diagnosed with it who are still managing is encouraging.

“It’s the support as well, it’s like a safety net. It’s really reassuring knowing who to contact and get advice from.”

She said she had heard numerous positive stories about both homes, and described the planned closures as short sighted.

“They are so valuable to the community,” she said, “It’s very short term thinking they can close them because it will just cause other problems like backlogs at the hospital.

“The DGH doesn’t want people to take up valuable space on the beds. But that’s all very well if there’s someone to look after them at home.

“The idea of rehabilitation is learning about the condition and not coming to A&E as often. It’s a short term solution to cut those facilities.

“I know people that have had different rehabilitation have also found it very helpful and have been shocked and thinking ‘we benefited from this, there’s going to be a lot more people who need it’.”