Leicester residential programme for the disabled under threat after council cutback

By Zarina Ahmed

A residential department in a Leicester-based school for special needs children is under threat of closure after the city council began a consultation last month on a proposal to withdraw funding.

Ash Field Academy’s residential programme is an extension of its curriculum, in which students can attend after school and even spend the night.

It had been funded by Leicester City Council’s Higher Needs Block but due to an overspend in their allocated budget, the council are looking for areas to save money.

Tom Barker, a teaching assistant at the school and a workplace representative for Unison – the trade union which is helping organise the campaign to prevent the closure – said: “They’ve [the council] got this idea that education is just Maths and English – which, it is, but, in some settings, it also independent living, physical development and communication – that is certainly the case in our school.

“Leicester City Council needs to stop cutting services; people already can’t afford to live and disabled people are often the most vulnerable in our society.

“If the Labour-run council represents something different from the Conservative government, then why do they keep cutting services?”

The programme had been rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted for its ability to increase the pupils’ outcomes.

Mr Barker said: “For some students, access to the residential service can mean the difference between remaining at home for the rest of your life or living independently.”

As well as pupils losing the chance to gain independent skills, staff who have worked there for as long as 30 years are at risk of losing their stable livelihood.

“It is a tragedy to lose that amount of experience. The people that have worked there are incredible,” Mr Barker added.

Cost of living crisis protest taking place offering additional support for the academy’s programme

Previously, there had been a protest in Leicester led by the campaign group ‘Enough is Enough’, in which around 600 people attended the demonstration, including Barker as a speaker.

Nationally, Enough is Enough, which had been initiated by Mick Lynch, secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, wants to coordinate a fight back against the cost of living crisis, and more than half a million people signed up to the campaign in the first 24 hours.

More protests and campaigns have been planned in the future for people to take a stand against the changes that will affect Ash Field’s residential programme.

The proposal to start winding down the funding for Ash Field’s residential services will begin in 2024.

If you would like to get involved, sign the Hands Off Ash Field Academy campaign link and read the website for more information.

Petition to save Glenfield Hospital’s heart unit reaches more than 60,000 signatures

By Beth Mosettig

A protest to save the children’s heart surgery unit at City’s Glenfield Hospital is taking place in Jubilee Square this weekend.

The march and petition to save the heart surgery unit has had overwhelming support, receiving more than 60,000 signatures on both paper and digital versions.

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(Credit Steve Score) Protesters at a previous march to save the the centre on Belgrave Road

Steve Score, 58, organised the protest as the unit’s possible closure is an issue close to his heart.

He said: “My son had open heart surgery last year at Glenfield and he had fantastic support from the hospital, he has met amazing people and it would be a tragedy if children didn’t have the same access to that care.”

The hospital provides surgery and check-ups for children all over the East Midlands who will have to travel much further if the unit closes.

NHS England have denied the closure of the unit is to do with the government announcing that there is to be £22 billion worth of cuts to NHS services.

They defended the closure of the unit, saying that heart surgeons have to do a minimum of 125 operations to keep their level of skill up to scratch.

Glenfield’s unit has three heart surgeons who have to perform 375 surgeries every year and they are not reaching that target.

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(Credit Steve Score) previous march to save the centre earlier this month

Mr Score said: “Last year my son was number 332 and the need for children’s heart surgery is increasing, so if NHS England had a little patience they would reach their target easily.”

Many residents are worried that the closure will have a knock on effect for other services.

Glenfield is also the only hospital in the country to have an Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) centre for adults, paediatrics, and neonatal services.

Jillian Humphrey, 43, said: “From a personal perspective I know that my daughter will need at least one more open heart surgery. She has trauma issues relating to her hospital admissions and surgeries.

“By forcing her to go to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar staff her issues are likely to be exacerbated leading to more trauma.

“As well as if I have to travel with her to Birmingham or London it will leave me isolated in an unfamiliar place with no support.”

Protesters are meeting at Victoria Park car park at 11am on Saturday, October 29 to march towards Jubilee Square for the rally at 1pm.

The petition to save Glenfield hospital’s children’s heart unit is available to sign online: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/160455