Families of severely disabled people could be left without vital respite support if care homes are axed under council cuts, a mother has warned.
Pam McCullough, whose 16-year-old son Matthew needs 24-hour care, was horrified to discover that Hargreaves House in Oswaldtwistle could be under threat as the county council looks to make savings of £179 million.
She says the short-stay centre is a lifeline to her and 40 other families with disabled relatives in the borough.
County council bosses say they are reviewing the future of respite care to reflect "falling demand" – and have not ruled out closing homes.
It currently operates eight homes across Lancashire, which are used by 179 people.
Matthew suffers from Angelman Syndrome - a genetic disorder which means he can never live independently and needs 24-hour care.
Currently Matthew receives a free care package at the home of seven nights in every six weeks, giving Pam and her partner Derek a much-needed break.
Pam, of Burnley Road, Accrington, said: "My biggest fear is that if they cut this, families will break down.
"The cuts are targeting some of the most vulnerable members of society. The impact this will have on 40 families if it closes will be horrible. Matthew is profoundly disabled. He can’t walk properly as his legs are shortened and he has the mind of an 18-month-old child, so he can’t be left unsupervised.
"You need your sleep and you need your sanity, and the children need structure in their lives.
"Many carers have other children and they need time for them.
"Closures could have disastrous consequences for many families who are struggling."
Pam, who is a self-employed lingerie saleswoman, added: "Matthew is incontinent and we prepare his food and drinks for him. He can’t speak at all or use sign language. He has been going to the centre for 10 years and it is really good for him. He can meet friends of the same age, in safe environment with highly-trained staff who know him well, who he feels happy and comfortable with."
Lancashire County Council bosses say the county’s eight respite care homes, including Hargreaves House, are running under capacity.
A report dated January 6 reads: "This proposal is to reconfigure and reduce the number of places maintained by the county council for respite provision with disabilities to reflect falling demand."
It goes on to say that more parents are requesting direct cash payments to pay for support, rather than taking up short-term breaks in authority-run homes.
But Pam says that for Matthew and many like him, respite care centres are the best option. She said: "We don’t want to use care staff, as Matthew also has autism, so a change in his routine is not good for him. There is no private centre available for Matthew to go to and we have tried to use the direct payment method, finding our own carers, but they once spent 11 months getting a CRB check so we ended up losing them."
A spokeswoman for the county council confirmed that nothing had yet been decided regarding the future of the respite care units.
County Councillor Susie Charles, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, said: "I understand how important our respite care services are to those who use them, and because of this we are involving parents and carers well before we reach the stage of formal consultation on any proposals.
"Both the director and senior manager responsible for this area of work have been holding informal meetings around the county at the beginning of February to meet with parents, keep them informed, and hear their views, all of which will be considered. Where appropriate for their child’s needs, we are encouraging parents to take up direct payments, which provides greater parental choice and flexibility.
"We cannot put a time-scale on the proposals at the moment as they are at a very early stage and the next step in the process is the approval of the overall budgetary proposals by full council on February 17."
She added: "The county council must make savings of £179m over the next three years and, because of the scale of the budgetary pressures, all service areas are coming under scrutiny."
CONCERNS have also been raised over the county council overhauling mental health services across East Lancashire.
Plans proposed include merging teams within the county’s mental health care services which could see centres like The Mount in Accrington housing a combined Hyndburn and Rossendale staff. Mike Banks, the county council’s head of active intervention and safeguarding, said: "At the moment these are only proposals - they would need official approval before they could go ahead. As these are staff who work alongside people in the community or in their own homes, there would be no loss of service.
"In fact placing them in offices together with their NHS colleagues would help to provide a more seamless service whilst saving money on accommodation. It would also enable us to extend the service in other areas, such as the Ribble Valley, where our present resources are more limited."