Dr Louise Irvine’s review of last week’s Cobgates’ public meeting

Last Thursday, there was a public meeting at Brambleton Hall regarding the proposed closure of Cobgates’ care home in Farnham. The meeting was arranged by Save Our Services in Surrey, with a panel of speakers including Alan Clyne (Chair), Dr Louise Irvine, Howard Kaye, Mark Richards and Douglas Dick.

Louise has summarised the meeting in full here -> Cobgates Public Meeting 4 December 2014 – Transcribed by Dr Louise Irvine.

Below is a more concise summary of the meeting.

Cobgates is a residential care home in Farnham for elderly people. Residents of Cobgates and family members say the care at Cobgates is excellent, with great staff who treat them with kindness and dignity. But, instead of being valued as a vital community asset and beacon of excellence, Cobgates is threated with closure. That is the preferred option of Surrey County Council which wants to close Cobgates and five other care homes in Surrey that it owns and runs.

SCC is running a consultation on the future of the care homes which ends on 12th December, yet it failed to hold a single public meeting to discuss this issue of great public concern. Therefore Save Our Services In Surrey called a public meeting on 4th December and around 75 people, including Cobgates residents and family members turned out on a cold winter’s evening to discuss the proposed closure of Cobgates care home in Farnham. It was an informative and moving meeting, with clear determination from people to campaign to save Cobgates.

Residents said Cobgates was their home and they did not want to leave. They loved it there and could not envisage better care anywhere else. They felt safe and secure, had friends who were like family and were looked after by wonderful staff.

I was invited to speak because of my campaigning experience in helping save our local hospital in Lewisham from closure. I said that what matters most to older people is to be treated with dignity which means being treated with respect for one’s wishes, especially about something as fundamental as how and where one lives. To force people to leave their home is a denial of dignity and of autonomy – in fact a denial of basic human rights. Quality of care is fundamentally about relationships – caring relationships with staff and friends who become like family can’t just be broken up and recreated elsewhere. The price of losing these relationships is very high and can take a toll on physical and mental health.

Instead of threatening to close it the Council should be asking how Cobgates can not only be preserved but also how we can learn from it as a centre of excellence and a beacon of good practice in person centred care.

Mark Richards, the son of a resident, spoke movingly of the care his father receives in the specialist dementia wing in Cobgates and his fears for the adverse impact a forced move could have. He rebutted several arguments the Council had made to justify their preferred option and stated that the Chairman of the panel had even agreed with him on all his points at a recent meeting. But Mark’s concluding words were the most poignant. He quoted Professor Jolley, a professor of old age psychiatry, that there is evidence of deterioration in physical and mental health of residents forced to move from their homes, and that this can hasten death. It is particularly harmful to people with dementia who cannot understand the reasons for the move. He said that would apply to his father and he feared the closure and forced move could hasten his father’s death. It was a hard but necessary point to make.

Douglas Dick, whose wife had been a resident of Cobgates and who had sadly died recently, rebutted many of the Council’s arguments about the quality of the environment at Cobgates. Douglas spoke with great feeling about the high quality care she received in Cobgates’ dementia unit from staff who treated her with kindness, dignity and love. His concluding words were:

We owe a debt of gratitude to the staff of Cobgates and we owe them a huge apology on behalf of this wicked council.

The SCC consultation document says the care home environments compromise the ability to maintain high standards of care and that the homes are underutilised. But residents and family members at the meeting made many powerful points that challenged SCC’s justification for their plans. You can read the more detailed rebuttals here in the transcription which I made of the meeting. These could be useful in preparing grounds for possible judicial review, should the Council proceed with plans to close Cobgates. People at the meeting pointed out that Cobgates had had a good Care Quality Commission report. They countered the financial arguments of refurbishment being too costly by saying that it would cost the Council more in the long run to pay towards higher fees in other homes. They criticised the council for misleading statements that Cobgates was underutilised and there was no demand when the Council had actually forced the home to close 10 rooms and also stopped them taking new residents, despite the waiting list. They pointed out that the homes could be refurbished, some rooms could be adapted to take hoists and that people not only don’t need en suite bathrooms but that these could be a safety hazard.

Other criticisms of the council included:

  • failure to produce a risk assessment of personal mental and physical health impact, including excess mortality
  • failure to hold public consultation meetings
  • weekday consultation meetings for family members excluded working people
  • that it seems the decision has been made and the consultation outcome is pre-determined
  • how the Council could end up with its only 6 care homes in such state of disrepair that it was not economic for them to be re-furbished, but they had to be knocked down

The final part of the meeting discussed next steps in the campaign to save Cobgates. I said in my speech that if you think something is worth fighting for, it is worth fighting to win. If you don’t fight you will definitely lose but if you do fight you may just win. I believe we can win if we build a broad community campaign to defend Cobgates, especially when people in Farnham realise what a precious community asset they risk losing.

Action Points from the meeting:

Please sign online petition set up by SOSiS

Official consultation – everybody can take part. There are statutory stakeholders where SCC must show they’ve consulted and there’s also a general consultation process, closing 12 December.

Write to your SCC reps and MP. The contact details are all listed here on the leaflet I produced on behalf of SOSiS for the public meeting: Leaflet for Save Cobgates Care Home

Lobby O&S Committee meeting (4th February 2015)

Lobby the meeting on 24th February 2015 at County Hall, when the Surrey-wide care home closures will be discussed.

Full and detailed summary of the meeting is attached here. Cobgates Public Meeting 4 December 2014 – Transcribed by Dr Louise Irvine

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3 Responses to Dr Louise Irvine’s review of last week’s Cobgates’ public meeting

  1. Pingback: Open Letter to Leader of Surrey County Council. Please Support The Campaign To Keep Cobgates in Farnham Open | NHA – South West Surrey Group

  2. mark harman says:

    Nothing has been mentioned about the lift at Cobgates which is a real danger for residents if there is a fire, it is too small to evacuate residents in a hurry and has broken down a number of times which should be a concern if the building is left as is.


    • swsurreynha says:

      Hi Mark, two family members of residents I spoke to said there was space in the central lobby for a larger lift to be put in there. I think they put that suggestion in their response to the consultation. When I visited Cobgates the son of one of the residents pointed this out to me. I think the problems with Cobgates can be fixed with refurbishment and some remodelling, rather than demolition.


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