Opposition councillors are dismayed at the decision by Walsall council to close ten beds for mental health patients in Walsall, which could leave vulnerable people at risk. The decision to close the unit was taken by the council’s controlling Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition at a cabinet meeting last week.
Broadway North Residential Unit in Chuckery provides ten respite and crisis beds to adults suffering from illnesses such as clinical depression, and closure comes as Walsall council discusses plans to cut £18.9 million from its budget. Cabinet members supported the proposal despite it being part of the draft budget which is supposedly open to change while a public consultation is carried out.
Labour members of the council say it shows how the authority’s Conservative and Lib Dem coalition are targeting social services and failing to protect the vulnerable. They will now ask the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition which runs the council to put politics aside to find a better alternative to the ‘just shut it’ argument.
Labour group leader and chair of the influential Social Services Scrutiny Panel, Tim Oliver, said the proposal to close the unit was an example of the cabinet’s out of touch priorities. He said: “Staff, patients and the public rightly believe this is the sort of service we should be protecting not threatening with closure, and that’s why Labour has opposed this closure, as our research has failed to provide assurances that thought-out alternative plans are in place for this vulnerable group. Leaving patients without the support they need when their illnesses threaten to overwhelm them is the epitome of the Tory and Lib Dem policies which ignore the needs of the vulnerable and only store up problems for the future.
The council claims that an alternative unit run by a local social housing landlord could cover the gap, but staff have told Labour councillors that this would create periods when clinicians are frantically searching for beds. This is made worse by the fact that patients with mental illnesses often present themselves when they hit crisis point and they need immediate treatment and care. Closing the unit is believed to enable the council to save around £100,000 per year.