Evening and weekend opening under consideration for Norfolk’s day centres
Day centres across Norfolk could open in the evenings and at weekends – if there is enough demand among the service's older and disabled users. Norfolk County Council is planning to rewrite the contracts of its care workers, which, it says, will make the service much more flexible.
This would mean vulnerable people could use their care allowances, known as personal budgets, to pay for centres to be open beyond the usual mid afternoon closing time.
No firm proposals have been put forward for the service, which supports 1,607 people. But the idea has angered care workers, who question whether there will be a market for services outside the normal hours.
Jonathan Dunning, Unison branch secretary for Norfolk, said: 'The council is looking at reorganising the workforce by expecting them to work weekends and evenings. Where's the demand for this new way of working? If there's a business case that convinces our members then that's one thing and we will talk about it.'
He added that pay conditions for staff who work at weekends and in the evenings were also proposed to decrease.
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The council says this will bring the remuneration of day-care workers in line with others at the authority.
Mr Dunning said it was 'rare' for staff to work in the evenings or at the weekends.
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He added: 'We are wondering – is the council looking at changing people's contracts now to make it a more attractive project to get rid of at a later date? Our members know the real world and when confronted with change have changed. If service users were saying they wanted it, we would have to sit up and listen but evidence suggests they aren't.'
A consultation document has been given to staff about the ideas.
The future of the council's 23 day centres is under review, with the authority looking to save �3.5m. It wants to stop directly providing day services for all but people with high-level needs, such as dementia, with a goal to get services taken over by independent providers by next year.
James Bullion, assistant director of community care at Norfolk County Council, stressed there was no specific proposal to open day centres later at the moment.
But he said: 'This is part of moving services towards the market and making them independent of the county council.
'We have got to think about them being sustainable and successful, so we need to ensure the new contracts are as flexible as possible for whoever takes on those staff under TUPE.'
He added of the 600 staff, it was unlikely many would have to work evenings or weekends, but said: 'If, say users of a dementia centre want it to be opened on a Saturday, it is better that staff have the expectation that might happen.
'I think there is a market for it. Day centres tend to stop at about 3pm at the moment, but, for people with dementia, the hours between then and 7pm can be very confusing, so they might need support.'
Downham Market resident Marie Mills said the existing opening hours suited her husband Brian, 68, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.
Mrs Mills added the current day centre service also enabled her to visit the couple's daughter Tina, who is in residential care to cater for her specialist needs.
She said: 'The opening hours are absolutely brilliant between 9am and 3pm – they are ideal for us. I can't see the point in the evenings or weekends. There's more things going on at those times and more people about.'
Phil Wells, chief executive of Age UK Norwich, said: 'I'm fairly convinced that most elderly people would want services in the daytime, although there is some evidence that carers might appreciate some services at the weekends. The difficulty is that the resources don't seem to be here to make it feasible.'