Care home bombshell

Looking for a new home - Celia Towers and Irene Sykes who are presently residents at Howard Castle in Morpeth.
Looking for a new home - Celia Towers and Irene Sykes who are presently residents at Howard Castle in Morpeth.

RESIDENTS at a Morpeth care home were stunned to hear out of the blue that it will be closing in the spring.

The registered provider of Howard Castle in Dacre Street, European Care (England) Limited, has revealed that it will shut the home. It claims that dwindling numbers and the state of the building means it is no longer possible to keep it open.

The 17 people who live there are now looking for alternative accommodation and the staff losing their jobs include 18 carers as well as cooks and nurses.

Under the current arrangements, the care home will be closed in mid-April.

Celia Towers, a founder of the Castle Morpeth Disability Association, was placed into the facility by doctors at Wansbeck Hospital when she broke her arm and leg two years ago.

“We were told last Thursday that Howard Castle will be shutting down in 86 days and we had no warning so the news burst like a bombshell,” she said.

“Apparently, the company said there are not enough residents and the building is so old that it would be too costly to bring it up to present-day standards. It had plenty of opportunities to invest in improvements but decided not to and so we think it must have been looking to close it for some time.

“We’re searching for places in other Morpeth care homes and, in our preliminary inquiries, we’ve found that there are some available at Northlands in King’s Avenue, although Riverside House in Low Stanners is full to capacity.

“It will be sad to leave because the standard of care we receive is excellent and it’s in a nice spot near the town-centre shops and services.

“It’s like a family here and we’re upset for the staff as it’s a very difficult time for them. Despite this, their main concern has been trying to find suitable alternative accommodation for us – they have been wonderful.

“The Government hasn’t helped the situation through its drive to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible. This has meant there are fewer referrals to care homes and those of us who can’t live in our own homes are facing disruption from closures.”

In the autumn, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) issued a formal warning to European Care (England) Limited after inspectors made an unannounced visit.

They said that the people living there were not protected against the risks associated with unsafe or unsuitable premises. Maintenance was not up to date and parts of the home needed to be addressed as quickly as possible. Urgent works were then carried out by the company.

Following the report, Howard Castle residents told the Herald that they were very pleased with the staff and it was only European Care that they had a problem with over its lack of investment.

Dacre Street resident and Morpeth town councillor Graeme Trotter said: “My primary concern is for the residents and their families.

“I feel sympathy for the upheaval they are going through and I hope that any disruption is as minimal as possible and they find alternative accommodation which is suitable for them. It’s also a shame for the staff who will be unemployed if other positions are not found for them within the company.

“I remember the building receiving planning permission for improvements two years ago, but obviously they must not have been implemented.”

Fellow town councillor Nic Best said: “It’s sad to hear that Howard Castle is closing. It’s a big upheaval for the residents and I hope that they can be resettled comfortably.

“It’s a bit disappointing that European Care has taken this decision after it carried out some works following the CQC report.”

The improvement proposals, which were given planning permission in 2011, included demolishing the 1980s extensions and building replacements and relocating the visitors’ car park to the front of the building, with access off Dacre Street, retaining the existing car park off Maritime Place for staff and deliveries.

A spokeswoman for Howard Castle said: “I can confirm that we have taken the difficult decision to close the care home. Over recent months, the number of people we support at the home has declined and it is no longer possible to keep it open.

“Our priority is the health and well-being of the people we support, their families and our dedicated staff. We will be working closely with residents, their families, the local authority and all agencies to help find alternative homes for people within a reasonable distance and with as little disruption as possible.

“We will also be working with our staff to do everything we can to help them find alternative employment, including, where possible, at other European Care locations.”