THERE were emotional scenes on Tuesday as the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust made a U-turn over its decision on the proposed closure and amalgamation of mental health and learning disability centres across Belfast.

After an agonising nine-month wait, families and service users from Fallswater Day Centre, Whiterock Day Centre and Crumlin Road’s Everton Day Centre packed into Knockbracken Hall to hear the Trust’s findings on the centres’ future. Many families had brought placards and posters that bore the messages ‘Stand Up’, ‘Speak Out’ and ‘Save Fallswater Day Centre’.

As the Trust Board began to read out its findings, loud applause rang out as it emerged that 92 per cent of those consulted “did not agree with the Trust proposals”.

Loss of relationships, transport, access and impact on local communities and staff were all cited as issues that would prove detrimental if the day centres were to close or amalgamate.

Relief was palpable amongst families as the Trust confirmed their plans to retain provision at Whiterock, Everton and Ravenhill however frustration and confusion boiled over when the term ‘postpone’ was used over the centre merger and associated closure of Fallswater.

With the floor open to questioning, Peggy McKenna whose daughter attends Suffolk Day Centre and who has been heavily involved in the campaign, addressed the Trust Board.

“I came to the conclusion that there was something very, very wrong when at 78-years-of-age I had to go out on the streets and protest about this. From the word go it was so badly handled the people involved should be ashamed of themselves.

“They came into the centre and told the children that the day centre was closing. In hindsight I wonder was that a whistleblower doing a bit of good? At the meetings we were always fighting for our children.”

Peggy continued: “They said we had three centres in West Belfast. We say we have three buildings and the only one that is anywhere near standard is Fallswater which is the one you want to close.”
To thunderous applause Peggy posed the question: “At the end of the day if I don’t fight for my child and the other children then who is going to do it?”

Frank Toner whose 63-year-old sister Eileen attends Fallswater, was next to speak.

“I witnessed the anxiety, the stress, the hurt and trauma of carers of families and service users. My sister had been told in November that Fallswater was closing and she said to me ‘am I staying here?’ You had introduced psychological damage to her and I’ve had to deal with that since then,” he said.

“These children, and I call them children – cognitively many of them are five to ten years-old – they are vulnerable. They have very few safe spaces they can call their own. Their whole socio-cultural environment revolves around their centres, the people that they see everyday and the wonderful staff who deal with them. I’m really proud of the people who work in these centres,” he said.

“When I read the initial report it turned me into an activist. I read the proposal and I noticed the glaring holes in that proposal.

“It’s not person centred it’s human centred and it’s compassionate. You need to care, you need to win back our trust.

“I hope that this board does not keep me as a activist and I will be keeping an eagle eye on you over the next few years.”

After those who wished to speak had, along with political representatives, in what was a major coup for people power the Trust then agreed to remove the term ‘postpone’ from its recommendations for Fallswater and keep all four day centres open.

A spokesperson for Belfast Trust said: “Belfast Trust held a Public Board Meeting to consider the outcomes and recommendations of the public consultations in relation to ‘The Delivery of Learning Disability Services for People Living in Belfast’ and ‘The Delivery of Mental Health Day Services for People Living in Belfast.

“We acknowledge the significant level of responses to the proposal and since the consultation period closed we have fully considered each and every one of them.

“At the meeting the Trust Board made the following recommendations which will now be submitted to the HSCB for consideration and for further consideration by the Minister for Health
“In relation to Learning Disability Day Services we recommend the following
Maintain Day Centre provision in West Belfast at current centres;
Establish a Project Implementation Group with all key stakeholders to shape the model of Day Opportunities and co-produce a centre plan for each centre to address the need, frequency and duration of provision for the future.

Develop a Day Opportunities Investment Fund to extend the range of day opportunities available across Belfast.

“In relation to Mental Health Day Services we recommend

Establish a Project Implementation Group with all key stakeholders to shape the model of Day Opportunities and co-produce a centre plan for each of the three sites to address the need, frequency and duration of provision for the future. The Trust acknowledges this may reduce the number of the days each Day Centre is open in order to best utilise the centres whilst retaining them in each area. Careful consideration will be given to this aspect of planning to minimise impact on Service Users and Carers and staff.

Maintain a Day Centre provision in each of three centres at Ravenhill, Whiterock and north Belfast (Everton) in keeping with individual care plans.

Develop a Day Opportunities Investment Fund to further develop the range of Day Opportunities available across Belfast.

“We want to sincerely thank all those service users, carers, staff, individuals, elected representatives, groups and organisations who responded, in any way.

“To deliver our vision for day services Belfast Trust’s core values of respect and dignity, openness and trust, being leading edge, learning and development and accountability, will underpin these recommendations and will ultimately support our commitment to provide safe, effective, compassionate and person-centred care,” the spokesperson added.