Respite care service’s closure is cynical

James O’Rourke comments on the concern for community care after the council votes to close Trumpington Road in Forest Gate

Trumpington Road

Waltham Forest Council’s respite care centre in Trumpington Road, Forest Gate (credit Google Street View)

“The test of a good society is you look after the elderly, the frail, the vulnerable, the poorest in our society.”

As a former Waltham Forest councillor who was often diametrically opposed to Tory policies, it is strange to start with a quote from David Cameron. Yet, he was right. So what has gone so wrong when the current prime minister completely ignores social care in announcing £20billion extra funding for the NHS? In a word; ignorance, one of the the five ‘giant evils’ reformer William Beveridge wanted to eradicate by creating the welfare state in the 1940s.

“Ignorance,” Beveridge said, “is an evil weed which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens.”

This leads us nicely to Waltham Forest’s leaders, the Labour Party. Just four weeks after this years’ local elections Waltham Forest Council’s ruling Labour cabinet voted to close a long established and vital respite care service for people with learning disabilities and their carers.

Exactly one week earlier I attended an East London Transforming Care Partnership (TCP) board meeting, whose membership consists of clinical commissioning groups, NHS England’s specialised commissioners, and local councils. TCP’s remit is to improve services so more people with learning disabilities can live in the community, with the right support, and near home.

It should mean fewer people with learning disabilities and complex needs will need to go into hospital. As a consequence, NHS England wants to close hundreds of hospital beds. But to do this, services in the community must be much better.

At the TCP meeting members discussed a hospital ward in the grounds of Ilford’s Goodmayes Hospital, and how to replace it with community-based services. But a report on the issue stated: “There is a lack of high-quality respite service in the boroughs of Barking, Havering and Redbridge” and that “appropriate respite facilities would enable clinicians to offer less restrictive options” to heavy-handed sectioning.

I suggested the Trumpington Road respite service, in Waltham Forest, would fit the bill. I also emailed council leader Cllr Clare Coghill and the chair of the Adult Services Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Richard Sweden, with my suggestion.

At the cabinet meeting where Trumpington Road’s fate was decided, Cllr Sweden pointed out “the crippling cuts the local authority has experienced at the hands of central government”. This is a narrative regularly trotted out by Waltham Forest’s Labour group, negating their own responsibility.

Cllr Khevyn Limbajee, the new cabinet member for adult services, described Trumpington Road as “a drain on resources” while Cllr Coghill said: “We are here to serve the people, not the bricks and mortar.”

A respite service, which could have become a pivotal provider of respite care for east London working with health partnerships and neighbouring boroughs, was closed. In the previous week these same councillors awarded themselves substantial increases to their allowances.

An ageing carer population, many at or near retirement age, are having vital support substantially cut, with ‘alternatives’ to Trumpington Road predominantly outside Waltham Forest. Carers face burn out. This is a cynical and ultimately naive decision which will render null and void any short-term savings. Ultimately, the council must fund long-term residential care when carers are no longer able to cope.

The TCP report clearly demonstrated a business case for Trumpington Road to provide high-quality respite care for east London. It could have continued to support carers in Waltham Forest, who I was proud to stand beside in their valiant efforts to save this long-established and vital respite care service.

It seems supporting the wallets of councillors trumps supporting the vulnerable.


James O’Rourke has a brother with severe learning disabilities, who successfully lives in the community in Waltham Forest, and is a former social worker.

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