Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
Waltham Forest Council voted to remove 24/7 support from vulnerable residents two days before Christmas.
Executive members of the council met on 23rd December and decided to stop paying £560,696 a year for on-site wardens in four sheltered living schemes.
Residents at Albany Court and Heavitree Court in Walthamstow and Glebelands in Leyton, which house those aged 50 or over who need extra support, will no longer have a staff member on site 24 hours a day.
Many families fear what will happen to their vulnerable relatives if they fall outside of normal care hours and say the withdrawal of the wardens will leave them more isolated at a time when they cannot have visitors because of Covid-19 restrictions.
The fourth assisted living scheme – Baytree House in Chingford – was also meant to lose this support but it is understood that one staff member is now being kept on until March and a new contract for 24/7 wardens will be secured.
Wardens at the three other schemes are believed to have left by the start of this year, with the relative of one Glebelands resident saying they were gone by Monday 4th January.
Pauline Brown, who moved her mother out of Baytree House in July 2020 because of the plans, said she thought the decision was “scandalous”.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We knew they [the council] would push it through quietly.
“There are still vulnerable people in those homes that were moved from other places because they needed the wardens. It’s really scary, I feel for the people that are still there.”
A particular concern for her was how carers would get in and out of the flats, as she said on-site wardens used to let carers in when residents were too impaired to do so.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service visited Albany Court, Glebelands and Heavitree Court on Wednesday 6th January but did not enter any of the buildings. While Heavitree Court had members of staff present who could have let a carer in, Albany Court and Glebelands both had no-one at the desk during day-time hours.
The family of one resident, who did not wish to be named, confirmed 24/7 support had already been removed, forcing them to provide extra care themselves.
The council insists the extra support arrangement is not “good value for money” and that it will arrange for residents who need extra care to receive it on a case-by-case basis. However, David Horn, whose 94-year-old mother Grace lives in Baytree House, said the wardens were invaluable for more than just medical care.
David said: “It’s a great disappointment. We got mum into that building on the basis there would be somebody there who could do a quick morning and evening welfare check.
“When we first moved her in, there were two lunch clubs a week and fish and chips on Fridays. My mum’s been there nearly five years and it’s changed a lot since then.”
Other relatives spoke glowingly of the previous support provided by housing association Notting Hill Genesis, claiming staff helped less mobile tenants to get out of their rooms and socialise with each other.
David added that he was unhappy with how the council had handled their decision-making process, which has been ongoing for more than a year. He said: “We had a meeting [with the council] and we put forward our case but the feeling was that they had already made their mind up as to what they were going to do to save money.
“It didn’t feel as though we could do much about it. I felt they were just going through the motions.
“We got a letter just before Christmas saying [the contract] was going to finish at the end of December. They gave an email address to write to and I did and didn’t even get a response.”
A council spokesperson said the council takes residents’ safety and wellbeing “extremely seriously”. They said: “Following an extensive consultation on the needs of adult social care users, which included a face-to-face drop-in session with Baytree House residents, we amended our proposals so that Baytree House would become an extra care facility for residents with more complex needs and retain a 24/7 on-site service.
“The other three blocks – Albany, Glebelands, and Heavitree – have been retained as sheltered housing schemes and now operate with the same level of support as all sheltered housing schemes in the borough.
“The landlords at all our sheltered blocks have tailored housing management protocols in place for residents, including careline services in the event of an emergency.”
The council’s report states it plans to “work with and support” the landlords to “introduce appropriate levels of intensive housing management”. It adds this will include specific functions relatives said they were worried about losing “such as security and communal or group activities”.
A total of 17 families responded to the online consultation about the proposed change, with twelve saying they “strongly disagreed”, three saying they disagreed and only two supporting it.