A charity cash crisis has left dementia patients stranded as hundreds of day care services shut up shop for good, a Mail on Sunday investigation has found. Dwindling funds have seen vital local groups for vulnerable adults slashed by a third since the beginning of last year.
Covid restrictions halted fundraising opportunities for facilities that provide everything from lunch clubs to memory-boosting activities – services both patients and their carers rely on. This, coupled with cuts to services run by cash-strapped councils, has left the entire sector decimated, say campaigners.
‘Family members and sufferers have no respite whatsoever,’ says Hilda Hayo, chief executive and chief admiral nurse at Dementia UK. ‘Many of these vital day care services are run by charities, but they are beginning to run out of money. Fundraising events haven’t been able to go ahead since last February, so there’s been virtually no income.’
Lesley Carter, clinical lead at Age UK, says the obliteration of day care has caused a rapid deterioration in the health of thousands of patients. ‘The most vulnerable people in this country are rapidly declining without any support whatsoever,’ she adds.
Covid restrictions halted fundraising opportunities for facilities that provide everything from lunch clubs to memory-boosting activities – services both patients and their carers rely on
‘Some have lost the ability to walk simply because they haven’t used their muscles in a year. They’ve had no social contact, which causes confusion to spiral.
‘Too many are being admitted to care homes way before their time.’
Just one example is the much-loved Wymondham Day Care Centre near Norwich, which has run social clubs for dementia patients and their families for more than 40 years. Last Wednesday it closed its doors for good, having struggled for months to make ends meet.
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And last month, Thurrock Council in Essex closed two of its ‘friendship clubs’ for dementia sufferers and stopped its meals-on-wheels service in an effort to save half a million pounds.
Most closures have been seen in the South West, with seven centres that offered social activities and respite care closing permanently in the past year, according to local reports.
Age UK, the UK’s leading provider of community groups for older adults, told The Mail on Sunday it had been forced to shut at least three of its sites, while Alzheimer’s Society has closed at least two.
Roughly 150,000 over-65s receive some support from day care services, of which at least 10,000 suffer with dementia, according to pre-pandemic Government data. Most services are run by trained volunteers or local mental health nurses, and involve a variety of activities designed to keep patients mentally active as well as providing respite for carers.
A wealth of studies show that cognitive and social stimulation can slow decline in later years and improve quality of life, but funding for these services comes either from local authorities, large charities or a mix of both.
A wealth of studies show that cognitive and social stimulation can slow decline in later years and improve quality of life, but funding for these services comes either from local authorities, large charities or a mix of both (file photo)
Alzheimer’s Society, which operates more than 500 services such as singing classes, group meet-ups and day care centres nationwide, says closures due to Covid restrictions are ‘temporary’.
Three of their four devoted day care centres are open, they plan to restart their other in-person services from tomorrow onwards, bar their singing groups which will remain virtual due to indoor singing being deemed high risk.
But insiders speaking to The Mail on Sunday have accused some of the bigger charities of using Covid as a cover-up for their reluctance to put their own cash into costly day care.
IT’S A FACT
The number of day care centres for older and vulnerable people in England dropped by at least 41 per cent between 2010 and 2018.
One financial expert said: ‘When Covid struck, lockdowns offered an opportunity for organisations to rethink how they spend their money and cut back on services they deemed too expensive.’
Hayo says: ‘Sadly, many have now shifted their focus to offering advice over the phone or directing people to other local services instead.’
Day care centres were, in fact, never ordered to close at the start of the pandemic, but local councils and organisations had to comply with strict hygiene rules, with groups of just 15 allowed.
On May 17 this year the Government ruled that 30 people could take part in Covid-safe day care, with special allowances made for what it termed ‘support groups’.
Despite this, figures compiled by the UK’s leading social care charity, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, show that many have not done so.
The body measures nationwide day care capacity – the number of patients than can be accommodated by such facilities. This figure now stands at 52,000, down from 80,000 pre-Covid.
One Alzheimer’s Society employee, speaking anonymously, accused the charity of effectively blocking her from reopening her service in the East of England.
They offered ten weekly group sessions before it closed in March last year. In April this year, despite demand from patients, the charity did not to reopen it.
Insiders speaking to The Mail on Sunday have accused some of the bigger charities of using Covid as a cover-up for their reluctance to put their own cash into costly day care (file photo)
‘I practically begged them to let me take smaller groups within the Rule of Six regulations,’ says the employee. ‘The Salvation Army was running lunch clubs for small groups since March and I saw no reason why we couldn’t do the same. I was told by head office, “Stop making clients be dependent on us – we’re not social services.” ’
The majority of staff working for the service have since been made redundant.
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Meanwhile, the charity offers phoneline advisors who handle patient and carer requests, which it says will offer one point of contact for those in need.
‘These are vulnerable people with dementia – they need to see someone in person,’ says the insider.
Isolation, exacerbated by lack of day care or other community support, can have some devastating consequences.
Valerie Howes, 75, from Peterborough, has vascular dementia and relied on her local charity centre for activity groups four times a week. But in March 2020 the groups ceased and she has had no sign from staff that they will restart any time soon.
Valerie, who is single and lives with her sister, says: ‘My memory is getting worse and worse, and no one seems to care.
‘The centre was wonderful. We’d get help with any questions we had about this condition, and had access to discussion groups and music sessions – it really kept me going. But then it all stopped and it feels like my condition has dramatically progressed ever since.’
The worst part, Valerie says, is the lack of contact from the staff at the centre.
‘I haven’t heard from anybody. Not one person since the classes stopped. My sister bought me a laptop to do the online classes, but it was too confusing.’
The Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘Day care has always been a very small part of what we do.
‘The few services of ours during the pandemic that have closed permanently have been a part of local government contract renewal decisions, and in the East of England sadly that did result in losing a very small number of our fantastic people.
‘Our support phoneline has been used over five and a half million times during the pandemic, with 95 per cent of service users feeling that the support they have received has improved their life.’