The disability charity Leonard Cheshire has been accused of making “a complete mockery” of its supposed commitment to service-user involvement after it suddenly told residents of 17 of its care homes that it plans to sell them to other care providers.
The plan will see about one-sixth of its 104 residential services being sold off to other providers, with the aim of completing the sales next spring.
The charity said that it had made “some difficult decisions” about residential homes that were “not in the right places with easy access to community amenities and with scope to grow”.
It comes two months after allegations of “insensitive and abusive” behaviour over the way Leonard Cheshire executives told disabled residents of another of its residential homes – Greathouse, in Wiltshire – that it was about to be closed because they could not afford to keep it open.
Leonard Cheshire insisted that the sale of the 17 institutions was not part of a long-term plan to shed all its residential homes from its portfolio of services.
A spokeswoman for the charity said: “We intend to reach significantly more disabled people with a range of community, residential and outreach services over the coming years and are committed to providing high quality residential care.”
But Professor Peter Beresford (pictured), co-chair of the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said the charity’s behaviour made “a mockery” of its supposed commitment to “user involvement, empowerment and partnership with its service users”.
He led a major piece of research that was based on talking to Leonard Cheshire service-users about involvement, empowerment and independence – funded by the charity and the Department of Health – which produced reports in 2000 and 2001.
He said: “It highlighted many serious problems with its residential services as experienced by service users.”
He said Leonard Cheshire refused to allow the reports to be published and failed to act on their findings.
He said: “Now, many years later, all the [rhetoric of its founder] of enabling and supporting service users to live independent lives has been exposed as meaningless by what looks like a badly thought through and rushed decision to offload what the organisation now seems to see as a loss-making enterprise.
“Could they be reminded, as many development charities are currently being reminded, that their primary responsibility should be to their supposed ‘beneficiaries’ and this process shows very little sign of this.”
He added: “The issue is not whether the homes are being closed or sold on; what matters is there is neither any clear future security for residents and their families, nor have they had any involvement in the overall policy and decision-making.
“Despite efforts that have been made to establish clearly what has been happening, there has been a fundamental failure of transparency in this process.”
Disabled activist Doug Paulley, who lives in one of the charity’s residential homes that is not being sold, in Wetherby, Yorkshire, and is a fierce critic of the way the charity is run, also criticised Leonard Cheshire for its failure to consult residents or staff.
He said: “Disabled people’s empowerment, control, respect: what precisely can one infer about their actual attitude to such, when they have unilaterally decided to do this without consulting or even informing residents at all during the decision-making process?”
He said he was concerned about the “great stress” caused to residents by the uncertainty.
And he questioned what would be done about the “inevitable outflowing of staff” and the impact this would have “on continuity for residents”.
He added: “What happens if they don’t manage to sell one or more homes?
“There are lots of care homes on the market as a result of the social care crisis and there doesn’t seem to be any great appetite to buy care homes. As we saw with Southern Cross.
“They haven’t said what will happen if they don’t manage to sell them.”
The Leonard Cheshire spokeswoman said: “Leonard Cheshire has set out to reach significantly more disabled people.
“To make this ambition a reality we have had to make some difficult decisions about a small minority of our services.
“These services are not in the right places with easy access to community amenities and with scope to grow.
“Other providers will be better placed to invest in their long-term future.”
The Leonard Cheshire spokeswoman said that all funds raised from the sale would be invested in community, residential and outreach services in the UK.
She said the charity was “confident” that it would find a “high quality care provider” for all 17 homes so that no disabled people would have to find new homes.
She added: “Trustees made the decision on 29 June and we have advised residents and staff of this at the earliest practical opportunity.
“We are acutely aware that this is a stressful and worrying time for residents, staff and their families and the decision hasn’t been taken lightly.
“Senior management have visited staff and residents at all services currently affected and an open dialogue between them and decision makers at Leonard Cheshire will continue.
“The continuity of care and support for our residents and staff is our overriding concern.”
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