A north-east couple has spoken of their devastation following news a “vital” respite service would have its funding withdrawn.
It emerged last week that VSA’s Airyhall centre, which looks after people with a mental or physical illness so their unpaid carers can have free time, would have its funding withdrawn by the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership (ACHSCP).
The charity’s Reconnect service, which offers peer support for people with mental health issues, has also lost its funding.
Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart called the decision “extremely disappointing” and called for a rethink, while VSA said it would lead to more strain on NHS services.
Now service user Laura Walker, whose husband Gary has Parkinson’s Disease and attends the Airyhall centre, has branded the move “devastating”.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Gary, 61, attended the facility once a week – the only opportunity Laura had to unwind from the responsibility of being a full-time carer.
She also fears her husband’s social life will be destroyed as he will be unable to see the friends he has had made at Airyhall.
It’s a really valued service, and the staff are fantastic.”
“Gary has had Parkinson’s for eight years and he has been going to Airyhall once a week,” Laura, 53, said.
“We are both devastated the centre is going.
“I don’t have any free time to myself but it gave me a day where I could go and do something for myself. It allowed me to go walking because I knew Gary was safe and well looked after.
“We’ve been advised it’s too late to keep Airyhall open. It’s not good enough. There is nothing wrong with it, so why does it have to close?
“It’s a really valued service, and the staff are fantastic. They are so good with Gary.
“There are around 100 other people who use the centre, and it is crucial to us all.
“It’s so sad what is happening. The partnership is willing to spend money on other things but when it comes to disabled people they are at the bottom of the heap.
“They are breaking up friendships and a secure, safe environment. Disabled people are the most vulnerable and they are being let down.”
Laura, from Kingswells, also hit out at “poor communication” from ACHSCP over the loss of funding and says users only found out last week from a circular letter dated nearly a month earlier.
Jennifer Mitchell, director of external relations at VSA, said: “Laura and Gary’s story highlights the importance and value that carers respite provides; we are naturally disappointed for the vulnerable people we support that the funding for Airyhall has been withdrawn.
“We would encourage anyone impacted by this news to actively take part in the ‘Stay Well, Stay Connected’ consultations that are ongoing by the partnership to ensure your voices are heard in terms of future services you want and need in the city.
“We have a meeting scheduled this month with the Health and Social Care Partnership to discuss this further and we are hopeful that we can look at new innovative ways we could work in partnership together to deliver a new carers respite service if possible.”
An ACHSCP spokesman said: “The Airyhall decision was carefully considered as part of our strategic review of all the buildings-based day services which we commission in the city and has fully involved the providers of the Airyhall day services. Service users and their carers have been asked for their views throughout this whole process.
“The Airyhall service has been largely closed for a year since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and a working group is working on the redesign of day opportunities for people, including opportunities for respite. Alternative provision has already been put in place for many of the clients.
“The provision of buildings-based day services during the pandemic has posed significant challenges, and there has been an unfortunate but necessary reduction in support available. We also recognise the impact that lack of available respite has had on carers and the person they care for. We are, however, working hard to identify alternatives, some of which are already in place.
“Invitations were sent out to providers to take part in an open forum event in January focusing on short breaks, with opportunities to discuss and develop ideas.
“We are also keen to engage with clients and carers and would urge them to make contact so that we can explore alternatives, like signposting to existing community groups or if eligible looking at other options by providing a budget under self-directed support so that service users and carers can be supported to join in with activities that they enjoy.
“We are committed to creating more choices and locally-based community options for all citizens in Aberdeen, in line with what carers and users have told us in surveys about the need for more choice and accessibility. With that in mind, we would welcome people contacting us on 01224 264004 or by emailing the wellbeing team at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about their circumstances and needs.”