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Start date: 2020-08-24
End date: 2020-10-04
Results: 2020-10-31

The Future of Walnut Close Care Home

Have your say


West Berkshire Council currently manages four care homes in the West Berkshire area; Birchwood, Willows Edge, No Trees and Walnut Close. When fully occupied they can provide nursing and residential care for 152 people over the age of 65, who have been assessed as requiring 24 hour care. The homes employ approximately 172 permanent staff, with a heavy reliance on agency and casual staff, to ensure that safe staffing levels are achieved.

Walnut Close Care Home is located in Thatcham and has space to accommodate 35 residents, 24 with physical disabilities and 11 with dementia. Currently, the home cares for 18 residents, as ten rooms are vacant and seven rooms are closed. None of the rooms have their own en-suite facilities.

The home is over 50 years old and requires significant, and potentially prohibitively costly, structural work to be undertaken throughout the property to ensure that it is safe and habitable. A recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection rated the home as 'requires improvement'. It also does not offer residents the level of facilities which we would expect within modern care homes. Although this has been accepted as a shortcoming of the building for some time, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has presented staff with some difficulties due the lack of such facilities.

We would like to improve the offer to those receiving residential care within our care homes, in particular to the standard of the physical environment eg the buildings.

Legislation Requirements

We, as a local authority, have a duty to arrange the provision of nursing and residential care for eligible people in our area under the Care Act (2014).

This can be provided either through the independent/external care homes market or directly by the council.

We also have a duty to ensure that the care provided in West Berkshire is of good quality, and that our care homes meets the requirements of the CQC.

What are we proposing?

To close Walnut Close Care Home in January 2021, and relocate/redeploy existing residents and staff to one of our other three care homes, predominately Birchwood.

This is an interim measure to respond to the current position and is a standalone decision. While we are carrying out a more substantial piece of work to consider our wider care home provision, to identify what we can do to improve our local offer and plan for the longer term, the impacts of Covid-19 have necessitated more urgent action.

Our objectives

  1. To provide a high standard of care in our care homes.
  2. To make the best use of our valuable and conscientious staff for the benefit of all our care home residents.
  3. To provide a good quality environment to the residents and staff, which is best for delivering care and controlling infection.

Why this proposal is our preferred option 

Following our review of the service provided at Walnut Close Care Home, the following problems have been identified:

  • Condition of building

During the most recent CQC inspection it was found that areas of the home required significant improvement, and were described as being in a "poor condition" and in a "state of disrepair". This has been, and will continue to be, a substantial barrier to the home being able to gain a higher CQC rating despite improvements in other areas of care provision.

Our building surveyors identified a substantial list of works needed to ensure the building remains safe. This includes new roofing to certain areas of the home, and floor replacement due to issues below ground.

It is also clear there are other issues, which would require a full structural survey to investigate. It is likely it would identify further work and the cost of this is unknown, but is likely to be significant.

  • Layout of building

The layout of the building does not allow for the delivery of high quality care, eg access to the communal areas and meeting rooms can impact some of our resident's privacy, as corridors become thoroughfares. The size of some of the bedrooms also presents difficulties in caring for residents, eg hoists do not fit in all the rooms.

  • Infection control

Staff at the home are highly valued by residents and their families and have done a superb job in caring for our residents, and in meeting desired levels of infection control during the Covid-19 pandemic.

During this time, the lack of certain facilities has however led to an increased workload for staff and stress for residents. This is partly due to the lack of en-suite facilities. En-suites are no longer a 'nice to have', but have a major role to play in reducing the risk of viruses and infections spreading throughout a care home. Having to share bathroom facilities between multiple residents has increased the cleaning workload of staff, and has also necessitated commodes being used within the bedrooms. This has negatively impacted on the residents.

Walnut Close Care Home currently has low occupancy with 17 rooms not being used (occupancy rate is approximately 51%) and is running at a loss. Of these 17, seven rooms are currently closed due to issues with hazardous flooring.

Looking at all the factors identified in the review, keeping the home open and safe has been discounted as a realistic option, due to the need for significant works. It would need either a substantial refurbishment of the existing building or a complete rebuild, both of which would mean long term upheaval for residents and staff, and be potentially prohibitively costly.

If the decision is made to proceed with the closure of the home, the budget earmarked for forthcoming essential maintenance works would be invested in our other three care homes, namely Birchwood, to make improvements to better support all our residents. The use or sale of the land at Walnut Close would be considered later, separately to a decision to close the home, and any subsequent proceeds of sale could be reinvested to further improve or expand our care home provision. This would form part of our wider service review.

What do we think the impact will be and how we propose to address it?

Although we recognise that the idea of moving to another care home might be unsettling for some residents and their families, we believe that undertaking such a move at the present time would impact the fewest possible number of residents as only 18 of the 35 rooms at the home are occupied. Whilst this does not negate the impact such a move would have on the current residents, it will allow care home and adult social care staff more time to spend with individual residents and their families, in order to ensure they are fully supported and have their move managed sensitively and carefully.

All three of our other care homes currently have multiple vacancies, and residents would be offered a place in one of these, in the first instance. However, there is also good availability in privately run care homes in the area at present, should residents and their families wish to consider a move.

It is anticipated that some of the residents, their families and staff will have concerns about the negative effect the closure may have on the close relationships they have developed within Walnut Close Care Home. It is our intention that the majority of the residents would be moved to our other homes in groups, along with familiar staff, and we believe this would reduce the impact of the move and address this concern.

Redundancies are not anticipated as it is hoped staff will be redeployed to our other care homes. At Birchwood, we currently have one area of the home which caters for ten residents and is currently empty, and we would hope to staff this with the current regular Walnut Close Care Home staff. There are considerable recruitment issues in the care home industry across the UK and this is no different in West Berkshire. By retaining our permanent staff we would reduce our reliance on expensive agency staff, and ensure consistency and quality of care for residents.

Birchwood is located near West Berkshire Community Hospital near Thatcham and is a five minute drive from Walnut Close. Willows Edge is in central Newbury and a ten minute drive away and No Trees is in Kintbury, which is a 15 minute drive.

pdf icon Please refer to the Equality Impact Assessment for further information. [35kb]

Why we want your views

We would like to know how this proposal might impact you, if the decision is taken to proceed with the proposed closure, and any views you may have on how we can minimise the impact.

As part of this consultation, we will be speaking directly with current residents and their families, staff who are directly affected, and other local stakeholders, eg Healthwatch West Berkshire

Your views will also be considered as part of our wider review of the market and care services in West Berkshire.

The survey will take approximately 10 minutes to complete, and will be open until midnight on Sunday, 4 October 2020.

If you have any questions about the consultation, please contact the RCP Admin Team at birchwood@westberks.gov.uk

What happens next?

We will consider all feedback received and submit a report to the Executive Committee for them to make a decision at the meeting on Thursday, 19 November 2020.

Following this meeting, we will publish the results on this page, in the local media and let interested people know directly by letter or email.