Pandemic changes to East Sussex’s learning disability day services made permanent

Changes brought about by Covid to services for people learning disabilities are to be made permanent, following a decision by a senior county councillor.

County Hall in Lewes/East Sussex County Council offices SUS-210823-124645001
County Hall in Lewes/East Sussex County Council offices SUS-210823-124645001

On Tuesday (September 21), Cllr Carl Maynard, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for adult social care, agreed to make permanent a number of changes to the council’s learning disability day services, which are based at Beeching Park in Bexhill, Linden Court in Eastbourne, St Nicholas Centre in Lewes and Hookstead in Crowborough.

The changes include a move towards smaller groups of people using the service, extended service hours across three sessions a day, and more ‘community-based’ services which are not based in a single building.

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Richard Lewis, from the council’s adult social care team, said the changes had initially come about as a result of the pandemic and the need to maintain a safe environment for both staff and people using the service. 

He said: “Throughout the pandemic our day services remained open because we knew there would be a small number of vulnerable adults who depend on our service. Through that time we put in a range of measures to maintain as safe a service as possible. 

“There were a whole range of practices we put in place and one of the things we realised when we did that was we had to reduce the capacity of our buildings, some of them by almost 50 per cent, so that we could manage our services to maintain social distancing.” 

He said these safety measures had forced the council to make further changes so people using the service still had the same level of support as before. 

While brought on by the need for safety, officers found some of these changes led to a better service than before the pandemic hit.

For example the service had previously had a single, all-day session, but during the pandemic it began operating three sessions a day – morning, afternoon and twilight.

This change extended the number of hours the service operated, which was praised by many (although not all) parents and carers as it offered greater flexibility than the previous set up, particularly for those in jobs with set hours.

The service also began offering more out-and-about activities in the community to get around the limited building capacity. These proved to be popular with service users and were considered to be valuable enough to continue. 

Another positive change, officers said, was the smaller group sizes (brought about by a need for social distancing) making several service users feel more comfortable than when in a larger group.

Mr Lewis said: “We had examples of some clients, who we had supported for many years, who were quiet and reserved, really coming out of themselves by being within a smaller group.    

“When I say it out loud, it is fairly obvious. If you are shy and retiring and you are within this huge group, it is a bit overwhelming and you might stay shy and retiring. Whereas if put someone in a smaller environment then they come out of themselves.”  

While the changes were largely viewed positively, there were some concerns raised during consultation about what the changes would mean in the long term for those with more complex needs. 

Another concern raised was whether service users would be able to see their friends as easily with the smaller groups. Officers said this could be taken into account as the smaller groups moved from a need for infection control to standard operating practice, however. 

There were also some concerns around people getting their preferred sessions. The council says support will also be offered to those who find the changes challenging.

Following discussion the changes were agreed by Cllr Maynard.