Parents worried as specialist Northampton respite care centre faces uncertain future

The John Greenwood Shipman Centre offers short break care for disabled children and young people.
The John Greenwood Shipman Centre offers short break care for disabled children and young people.

The parents who use a specialist Northampton respite care centre for children are worried the service may come to an end after a 32 per cent reduction in funding.

The contract, which ends in July, to run the John Greenwood Shipman Centre was put up for tender in March and parents were told by Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT) that it didn't see a way it could safely look after the children within the restructured financial model.

Northamptonshire County Council has advised it will continue to provide £2.1m per year along with co-funders Nene and Corby Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), whose share of funding has reduced in 2018/19.

"It’s pretty awful. It means we go from just about coping to not coping," said Kate Jarvis, from Harpole, whose daughter Leah uses the centre.

“It means our 15-year-old doesn’t get a break from us, nor us from her, or from her siblings.”

She added: “How can we trust a body we know nothing about to deliver the care our children need if the NHFT can’t do it?"

After the decision by NCC and CCGs to put out the invitation to tender for the £1.44m contract, NHFT explored all its options to continue to deliver the service safely.

A spokesperson for NHFT said: "NHFT’s priority is to ensure a quality service is provided to service users, their families and carers. Our focus on quality care has regretfully brought us to the decision of not bidding to continue to provide the residential short breaks service as we don’t believe we can provide the level of service we would want to within the finances now available.

"We have not taken this decision lightly as the residential short breaks service is one we value highly. We remain open to discussions with NCC, who are one of our closest and most important partners. We acknowledge while we can’t provide the service to the level we would want within the financial envelope, this might not be the case for other organisations who might be submitting tender bids for this service.

"We will be engaging with staff, stakeholders, service users, patients and carers to ensure they are clear on our reasons for this decision and to help offer support at this uncertain time."

NCC is currently leading the task of finding a new short break provider but Nene and Corby CCGs said it has a responsibility to ensure the health needs of the children are met.

"A period of engagement was undertaken last year with families accessing the services which revealed not all children, especially children with very complex needs, have been able to access the services in the same way," said a Nene and Corby CCGs spokesperson.

"As a result, a new model was developed for residential and non-residential breaks which aimed to address these needs and in an arena of financial challenges, made more efficient use of resources and staffing. This is currently out for tender.

"Whilst decisions about residential short breaks are made by the local authority as lead commissioner for social care, Nene and Corby CCG’s have a responsibility for ensuring that the health element of the short breaks services will be met.

"This includes the training of staff to ensure they can meet the specific health needs of a child in their care. We are committed to continue funding this element of the service."

The John Greenwood Shipman Centre can accommodate 10 children across two areas, a four-bedded unit for children with complex behavioural needs and a six-bedded unit for children with disabilities.

The potential loss of the centre has made parents like Mrs Jarvis anxious about what the future might look like, especially as they don't know if anyone has or will bid for the contract.

It's still unclear how many of the existing staff will be retained should a new contract be put in place, with Mrs Jarvis pointing out that the current nurses play an important role because many have cared for some of the children who attend the centre for more than a decade.

"Most of the nurses have known the children for 15 years," said Mrs Jarvis.

"They know the complexities and know their needs, and what care the children need."

A spokesperson for NCC said: “Northamptonshire County Council will continue to protect its funding for these vital services, including residential short breaks, to the sum of £2.1m per year.

"Nene and Corby Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have significantly reduced their contribution for 2018/19. The tender process has now closed and further discussions are taking place with NHFT regarding future arrangements."