NO further nursing home closures are planned in Somerset – despite 700 beds being unoccupied across the county.

This was the pledge made by Stephen Chandler, Somerset County Council’s director of adult services, at a meeting in Taunton on Wednesday (January 30).

Mr Chandler appeared before the council’s adults and health scrutiny committee to provide details on just over £3.1M of savings proposals for 2019/20.

This includes around £1M of savings to come from reducing the number of permanent residential or nursing home placements.

Mr Chandler said this saving would not in itself lead to further planned closures of homes, stating that both the staff and the premises still served useful purposes in the council’s delivery of adult social care.

He argued in his written report this was part of an ongoing drive to promote independence and keep people living in their own homes for longer.

He said: “Maintaining independence makes people happier, healthier, and helps reduce the need for future services.

“We believe people themselves are best placed to determine what help they need and what goals they wish to achieve.

“The national and Somerset picture is that people are choosing to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, resulting less people going into residential and nursing care.”

Mr Chandler said there had already been a £1M reduction in spending on bed-based care in 2017/18, of which £739,000 had been spent on nursing.

The savings proposed for 2019/20 would see a six per cent cut in spending across both nursing and residential costs, to reflect the “cultural change” in the social care industry away from residential home placements.

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Mr Chandler said: “We know we can support people better for less. We think that continuing that next year will be credible.”

Councillor Andrew Govier questioned whether the cuts in funding would lead to more care homes closing, citing the example of Poplar House in Wellington which closed in November.

Mr Chandler said the council had been “engaging regularly and routinely with care providers” to see how their resources – including the buildings they run – could be put to better use.

He said: “Clearly care homes are valuable assets and valuable staff groups. Sometimes a building is strategically important for a community, but it can be used for a wider range of activities.

“We have been upfront that we see a future with fewer residential solutions to it. We want to use the resource differently – we’re talking about needs being met in a variety of different ways.

“There are absolutely no planned closures of care homes in the pipeline.

“We don’t need the level of care home provision that we’ve got, but we do need the resources that they have, whether it’s the staff or the buildings.”

The full budget proposals will come before the council’s cabinet on February 11, with the full council meeting to approve its budget on February 20.