Council Must Rethink Solace Plans

Says the Ealing Central and Acton MP Angie Bray

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For the next few months (until May's Election) Ealing Central and Acton parliamentary candidates will be writing about issues affecting the area.

Below, Conservative MP, Angie Bray, urges Ealing Council to reconsider its plans to close the Solace Centre:


The Solace Centre in West Ealing has been a source of strength for those suffering from mental health difficulties since it opened in 1992. Visitors will find understanding, support and the company of others who have shared similar experiences. It is a self-referral service, meaning that it can provide support and, if necessary, medical intervention at a far earlier stage than would otherwise be the case. There are around 85 regular members and many more visitors; last year there were over 9,000 visits. The Centre is open every day of the year, operating an out of hours service to be available when it is needed most. Now the Solace Centre is threatened with closure by Ealing Council.

There are so many ways in which this is wrong that it is hard to know where to start. Mental Health is rightly being given more priority than it ever has with initiatives like Dementia Friends breaking the taboos. Mental Health should be taken as seriously as other health issues and there remains a long way to go on that.

I recently met members and supporters of the Centre and it’s fair to say they are devastated by the proposal. There is a sense of community and solidarity there that would be impossible to replace. Beyond emotional connections though, places like this make a lot of sense in a scheme of overall healthcare. By offering the right care and support early, they can prevent much more intensive and costly treatment that may be needed at a later stage. It is not an exaggeration to say that they can save lives. Members and users have formed a group to save the centre and I would encourage anyone to visit their website, find out more and sign their petition.

Integrated healthcare is a term increasingly used and it is a positive approach. It recognises that there can be artificial barriers between healthcare in and out of hospital. It also recognises that in many cases people would prefer to be at home rather than in a hospital and so is more of a holistic approach. It is completely designed around what is best for the patient and part of the NHS Five Year Forward View with which all political parties are in agreement. Advances like the mapping of the human genome mean that before too long patients will be able to take courses of medication specifically designed for them in their own homes. As with all advances though, the details need to be got right and much of this is financial – which department controls what, which parts are ringfenced and so on.

The Better Care Fund is a new budget pooled between Health and Social care totalling £3.8billion. It starts in April of this year and Ealing’s allocation will be £29.22million. I cannot imagine a better use for some of this money than to go towards the Solace Centre. It perhaps seems a bit cold to talk about somewhere like this in financial terms, but Ealing Council claim reasons for closing it are about the money. The Centre costs around £150,000 a year to run, of which around £50,000 comes from the West London Mental Health Trust and is safe. Put into context, if just three of the members were to be admitted into Ealing Psychiatric ward this would outstretch the yearly budget of the Solace Centre.

Everyone knows there is less money to go around as the Government gets the amount of borrowing down. At the time of writing Ealing Council’s website reports that their budget is being cut by 50% and this is simply not true. Much of what the Council spends is in direct grants and they are many of the things that people expect the council to provide such as housing and schools. I asked a written question of the Department of Communities and Local Government about this and was informed:

Leaving aside school spending which has changed due to the funding shift from Local Education Authorities to Academies, in 2014-15, Ealing’s net current expenditure excluding education services is forecast to be £541 million (source: Revenue Account Budget returns). This compares with £450 million in 2009-10 (source: Revenue Outturn Summary returns). This represents a 20 per cent increase in cash terms.

I write at a time when Ealing Council has also been highlighted as one of the highest spending in the nation on consultants and temporary staff - £80million since 2010. They have also increased their reserves by nearly £10million since 2010, and are now sitting on nearly £100million in spare cash. They have also managed to find the money to award themselves a pay-rise.

I don’t like using the term ‘public money’ because really there is no such thing. It belongs to the taxpayers and should be treated as such. I don’t think, though, that anyone would see spending some on the Solace Centre as anything other than the right thing to do and I urge the Council to reconsider its position.




20th January 2015