EDITORIAL: Budhmor decision must be resisted 

Budhmor Care Home in Portree is earmarked for closure. Pic, Willie Urquhart

The sudden announcement that Portree’s Budhmor Care Home is to close comes as a savage blow to all the residents, families and staff connected to an establishment widely lauded for its standard of care.

Just 13 weeks’ notice has been given to families to make new arrangements for their loved ones, and while staff have apparently been offered alternative positions, there is considerable anger and upset among workers who have served the home and those who have lived in it with diligence and compassion over many years.

This week’s proposal will be met with resistance – and those leading it will deserve all the local backing they can get. The Free Press adds our voice in support, and in doing so raises further questions about the provision of care for the region’s elderly.

Not so very long ago there were residential care homes in just about every district of Skye and Lochalsh –  in Staffin, Struan, Dunvegan, Uig, Broadford and Dornie.

But changing regulations on facilities and staff were not sufficiently accompanied by support for the owners to make the transition the new rules demanded of them. It is now surely a matter of huge regret for our communities that so many small-scale care providers – despite their good reputation and obvious appeal in rural parts of the country – have been allowed to wither on the vine and disappear.

By this summer only two Skye homes could remain – An Acarsaid in Broadford and Home Farm in Portree. Both are now publicly owned and run by NHS Highland, with the latter transferring ownership from the private hands of multinational HC One in the wake of a scathing report on standards which followed the Covid outbreak in April and May 2020.

Budhmor’s owners are not a shadowy offshore conglomerate trying to put profit before care  – but CrossReach, the social arm of the Church of Scotland. Despite their benevolent roots, the modern pressures facing the sector, they say, simply make it too difficult to keep their Portree home open.

The building needs too much work and they don’t have the money to pay for it.

The only option, families were told, is closure – with the suggestion that the 15 residents could all be accommodated nearby in a refurbished and expanded Home Farm.

It is not difficult to understand why families are so aggrieved at this proposal.

Things may well have improved at Home Farm since the horrors of Covid, but have all the lessons been learned?

The blanket national policy of shifting patients from hospitals to care homes in the frantic weeks of early 2020 was a huge factor in the devastating Covid death toll that followed.

Yet now, with the pandemic still not behind us, families in Skye are being told they should accept the transfer en masse of their elderly relatives to the very home so ravaged by coronavirus when it was proven to be over capacity and understaffed.

At Budhmor, they managed to keep the home safe from the worst of Covid-19. Relatives of residents will tell you that was no fluke – but down to good standards, diligent management and conscientious staff.

There will be some truth in the financial and staffing pressures that CrossReach cite in their reasons for closure. But two years on from the outset of Covid, should the sector not be doing all it can to preserve and build on the success of an institution which proved such a good example during the pandemic, rather than bowing to the bottom line and accepting its loss.

There is also the matter of an options appraisal on health and care needs in the north of Skye, currently being prepared by NHS Highland.

Closure must at the very least be halted until this review is complete – and if this requires support for CrossReach, our Government should find it.

In the longer term what we really need are alternative models to those that are currently governed by economies of scale than on individual or community needs. An agenda of rationalisation and centralisation has taken hold of far too many of our public services and is ultimately driving decisions like the closure of small care facilities offering a homely, personalised environment in favour of a vast, but possibly distant one many miles from an individual’s home community.

No-where has this been more obvious, or dangerous, than in the west Highland health and care sector.

We should start the fightback by backing Budhmor care home, and keeping it open.