Criticism of ‘dire’ designs for Norfolk dementia care homes

Designs for the rooms where elderly people with dementia in Norfolk will live under a shake-up in the way care will be provided have been condemned as 'dire' and 'too small' by county councillors.

Following Norfolk County Council's Big Conversation - which aims to bridge a �135m funding gap over three years - the authority agreed to team up with its commercial offshoot Norse to replace 26 residential homes with six specialist dementia units and housing with care schemes.

The creation of Norse Care to run those homes saw the council hand the new company responsibility to reprovide 500 places as housing with care and 250 places for people with dementia in registered care homes.

But proposed designs for the rooms the elderly people will live in got short shrift from some councillors at a meeting of the county council's community services overview and scrutiny panel yesterday.

Nigel Shaw, Conservative councillor for Woodside division, said: 'I'm reminded of that song from the 1980s 'Living In A Box'. I think this is absolutely dire.'

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Tory colleague Anthony Wright, who represents Marshland North, agreed. He said: 'I wonder if the people who have designed it would like to live in it. I am quite sure they would not want to live in a room like this. 'If you are in a wheelchair I think you would have a job to move around in there. It's too small.'

But Harold Bodmer, director of community services at County Hall, defended the proposals and said at 20.5m2, the rooms were double the size of those in some of the current care homes.

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He said: 'This is a state of the art scheme for dementia care. People in our current 26 residential homes are sharing bathrooms and some of the rooms cannot even be used. The accommodation there is much, much smaller, with some just 9m2.

'This will mean people moving from our current residential care homes to a new, purpose built unit, built and designed around dementia care, so it's important to see the rooms in that context.'

The room design was backed by Shelagh Gurney, deputy cabinet member for adult social services, who accused some of her colleagues of 'rushing in' with opinions.

She said from her experience of working in care homes, some people with dementia actually preferred their rooms not to be too large, as they could find them threatening.

She said: 'I don't have a problem with the room size. As Harold has pointed out, the homes are for people with dementia needs and those needs are very different from an elderly person who is fit and well.'

Officers added that the plan was for the care homes to have their own lounge and dining room, with people's rooms arranged in clusters of about 11 people, a design which Mr Shaw described as a little like 'Prisoner Cell Block H'.

The committee agreed to note the design principles, which will go before the council's cabinet.

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