MS charity respite home closure protest vote fails

Nurse caring for patient
Image caption The centres offer round-the-clock nursing care

A motion of no confidence in the leadership of a multiple sclerosis (MS) charity over the closure of respite care centres has failed.

The residential centres in York, Surrey, Warwickshire and East Lothian face closure if they are not taken over by other organisations.

The MS Society says its reviews aims to give patients and carers "more choice and control".

It added 60% of members at its AGM voted for the Board of Trustees' plans.

The centres offer day-care and holidays for MS sufferers.

Guests can take part in group activities and outings, while carers are reassured by the presence of round-the-clock nursing.

The MS Society says 1,385 people stayed at the centres in 2008/9 - but it estimates about 30,000 people need respite care.

It says more than 20 organisations have expressed an interest in taking over the centres.

But campaigners fear closure is more likely, because the centres have equipment - such as ceiling-mounted hoists - which is highly specialised for MS patients.

Sue Tilley, who has had MS for 36 years, and is a former MS Society trustee, said the homes were worth the money.

"It really is extremely important. For many it's the specialised care that they get. Our homes only cater for people with MS so they're with staff that understand exactly what their problems are, they don't have to explain what the problems are to any of the other guests," she said.

"They are expensive. It costs the society £2.7m a year in the subsidy, but we've known this for years. Respite homes are different to long-stay homes and they do cost money, but that's what people give money to the society for."

The MS Society has praised the professionalism and dedication of staff and volunteers at the centres.

But it says a more flexible approach is needed as the current service only helps around 4% of members. It wants to offer more personalised forms of treatment and give money to members to arrange their own holidays.

It also says because the locations of the centre, they're hardly ever accessed by patients from Wales and Northern Ireland.

In a statement issued after the votes, the charity said: "The votes today mirror those of the consultation that lead to this decision and as such confirm that the Society is heading in the right direction for people living with MS.

"We will continue to seek alternative providers for the four centres we run and will do everything in our power to ensure that people who currently use this service continue to get the support they need."

It added it wanted politicians to take a fresh look at how people with MS can be better supported to access respite care and short breaks.

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