Thamesbrook closure heralds a new era for older people’s housing

17 July 2015

A vacant and outdated old people’s home in Chelsea is to close permanently as part of plans to provide around 150 new homes for older residents, the Council’s Cabinet decided last night (16 July 2015).

The 56-bed Thamesbrook home has been closed since May 2014 following the discovery of Legionella in the water system. Despite the best efforts of staff and specialist contractors, this outbreak proved intractable and led to an unacceptable reduction in care standards and consequent transfers to other homes.

Following the temporary closure, the Council ordered a review that looked at four options for the future of the home: refurbishing it, remodelling it so that it meets modern standards, replacing it with 'extra care' housing units on the site or replacing it with extra care units elsewhere in the borough.

Extra care is a form of housing in which older people rent or buy their own homes in developments where care is available on site in the quantity and type needed, and which can ‘scale up’ as people become older and frailer. Extra care homes also feature communal social areas where residents can keep company and enjoy activities.
One of the key ambitions expressed in the Council’s 2013 strategy for the future of older people’s accommodation ‘Modernising Older People’s Housing... ’ is for more extra care schemes. The evidence is that the extra care approach produces more years of good health and independence, and also that older people themselves prefer such arrangements.

Following last night’s decision, the Council will now bring forward plans for up to 100 new extra care units either on the Thamesbrook site or on a large Council-owned site at Lots Road or shared across both. Although the configuration is yet to be settled, some of those homes will be for the private market, for which there is a strong local demand, and at least half will be at affordable rents.

At the same time the Council is also working on other schemes in North Kensington that could add a further 70 new affordable homes for older residents.

To address nursing provision the Council is investing £1.1 million to create a new 20-bed nursing unit at Ellesmere House on the Fulham Road. The new unit is expected to open in autumn 2015.

“Thamesbrook is one of the last old-style homes and has given great service for many years,” said Cllr Mary Weale, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, “but old-style institutions are no longer how we wish to look after our older residents and it’s not how older people want to be looked after either.

“Extra care is the future and this prime site means we now have the chance to make a serious down payment on our ambitions for high quality extra care housing. That’s a fitting legacy for Thamesbrook to leave behind.”

As part of the Thamesbrook review a public consultation was carried out that received nearly 200 submissions.

A total of 48 per cent of respondents supported the Council’s preference for the extra care options, compared with 44 per cent of respondents who were opposed, preferring to see the home refurbished, remodelled or rebuilt.

Despite that opposition, people were generally supportive of extra care housing. In total, 77 per cent agreed that the Council should seek to maximise the amount of extra care housing in the borough. However, some were concerned that the extra care option did not address the needs of older people with advanced dementia or other conditions requiring nursing care.

Built in the 1960s, Thamesbrook was one of the few homes in the UK still run by a local authority and the only one run by the Council. As well as Legionella, the building has many other defects. It is tired and institutional. Rooms are some 16 per cent smaller than modern standards. None can be classified as wheelchair compliant. The furniture layout is relatively fixed, meaning residents had less choice about where things go and what personal items they could bring in and several rooms cannot meet current care standards because it is impossible to provide care from either side of the bed.

In addition, the overall layout of narrow winding corridors and units spread across three floors made supervision much more difficult and contributed to running costs far higher than places in private nursing homes offering objectively higher standards of accommodation.