Closure of Sheffield care facilities will worsen support for children with severe learning disabilities, says UNISON

Proposals to close a care unit in Sheffield supporting children from across the country with severe learning disabilities and mental health conditions must be reconsidered, UNISON says today (Wednesday).

Ruby Lodge is part of Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. It provides services for young people aged eight to 18, allowing them to be assessed by a range of health professionals, including nurses, doctors, psychologists and therapists, during 12-week stays. It is the only specialist mental health and learning disability facility within a children’s trust in the country.

However, staff have been told services are now to be delivered in the community rather than in a specialist unit. The plan is being carried out by NHS England.

UNISON says the move will put extra pressure on staff, reduce the range of specialist help that would otherwise be at hand and make it harder to deliver services to young people who don’t live locally, meaning the most vulnerable children will be left without the specialist care needed for a high quality of life. The union also believes the changes could lead to some redundancies.

UNISON Yorkshire and Humberside regional organiser Charlie Carruth said: “Ruby Lodge is a specialist facility, caring not only for young people with severe learning disabilities but also providing invaluable support for parents and carers.

“Attempting to give that level of help in the community is totally unrealistic and puts a huge burden on staff who are being asked to deliver a service that simply isn’t feasible.

“Uncertainty around the future for the unit could see many experienced staff vote with their feet and choose to leave.

“NHS England needs to think again about removing a facility that gives invaluable care to some of the most vulnerable young people across the country.”

UNISON Sheffield community health branch secretary Sue Highton said: “These proposals would put huge pressure on the dedicated health staff who provide a unique service that’s recognised across the country.

“The work of Ruby Lodge can’t be replicated in the community. The plans show a complete lack of understanding of how support is delivered and must be reconsidered urgently so young people get the care they deserve.”

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