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Health bosses claim they will be able to ‘continue to meet the requirements’ of service users, despite threatening to close the region’s only dedicated dementia unit.
A report on the future of Knapdale ward dementia assessment unit in Mid Argyll Hospital will be presented to health and social care decision makers on the Integration Joint Board in coming weeks.
As fears grew among staff, the trade union Unison started a petition against any closure plans. Though released a week earlier, the Unison petition was formally launched on November 21.
The eight-bedded ward, which has been closed to new admissions since 2018, has been a target for cuts as Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) struggles to plug a £6.4 million budget gap for 2020/21.
Dawn Macdonald, Unison convenor for Argyll and Bute in NHS Highland, said: ‘Unison is launching this petition to prevent the full closure of Knapdale Ward and to call for its re-opening to new admissions.
‘There are ongoing proposals regarding the future of our dementia services within Argyll and Bute. Unison is standing up for these crucial services and believes given Argyll and Bute’s ageing population we need to see an expansion not contraction of dementia services.’
A spokeswoman for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership said: ‘We have a duty to ensure our dementia services meet the needs of the people living in Argyll and Bute and, in line with the Scottish Government’s National Dementia Strategy 2017 – 2020, we provide these in an environment that is suited to the needs of people using the service.
‘In most cases this will mean the appropriate place to care for people will be in the community and they will only be admitted to hospital when there is a clinical need to do so.
‘We are also looking to invest in our community dementia services and increase access to timely specialist support and assessment to prevent avoidable admission to hospital in the first place.
‘All of this links in with us looking at our dementia services generally to ensure we continue to meet the requirements of the people using the service.’
Mid Argyll councillor Dougie Philand described the proposals as ‘astounding’, adding: ‘We will now see our older people ripped from their communities and shipped off to care outside Argyll and Bute. We have an excellent team in Knapdale ward who should be supported to do what they are good at.
‘I would urge communities to stand up for Knapdale ward and not allow vulnerable people and their families to suffer even more.’
Councillor Sandy Taylor reiterated this point, adding: ‘In the event the ward is closed, I will be looking for assurances that patients will not need to be treated outwith Argyll, but would rather see the ward developed as a specialist resource and centre of excellence which could serve wider Scotland.’
In the week following its unofficial launch on November 13, the Unison online petition gathered an astonishing 1,700 signatures.
A selection of comments posted by people as they signed the petition:
A former consultant psychiatrist for Knapdale ward commented: ‘I believe this local service is essential. The current review process is deeply flawed and does not address the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.’
A former psychiatric nurse wrote: ‘I am disgusted by the so called “review” of services. If patients with dementia and potential “behaviours that challenge” cannot be admitted for assessment then health board can say there is no need for service. The other excuse is difficulty in recruiting staff. Never been a problem in the past but if people are only offered temporary contracts who is going to move to this area. So called care in the community is not working for a lot of people and their carers.’
Another signatory said: ‘My own mother had dementia and it’s horrendous without support. We have made such advances in prolonging life, we need to match those with prolonging health and taking proper care of our communities while we work towards that. Dementia services should be enriched and expanded, not cut.’