Celebrities sign up for battle to save Alzheimer’s day centre

Published: 24th March, 2011

SEVEN-TIMES Bafta winner Ricky Gervais has told the New Journal he thinks Town Hall chiefs are “cruel” for closing a day centre for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The man who made The Office called for the Netherwood Day Centre in West Hampstead to be spared. It has lost out in spending cuts ordered by Camden Council.

Mr Gervais, who hosted the Golden Globes awards this year before an audience of the world’s most famous actors, pleaded with councillors to think again about axing the visionary purpose-built centre.

He said: “Netherwood is a lifeline for those who attend and their carers alike. Alzheimer’s and dementia are devastating afflictions and they are on the increase worldwide. We need to protect and cherish places like Netherwood more than ever, not close them down. 

“Closing this centre seems particularly cruel as it is taking away yet more from those who have already been robbed of so much. I urge Camden Council to find other ways to make cuts and safeguard Netherwood for generations to come.” The closure proposal has struck a nerve with Camden’s great and good. A petition has grown to more than 4,000 signatures and was signed on Saturday by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and the National Theatre’s Frankenstein, and actress Phyllida Law, mother of film star Emma Thompson.

Labour peer Baroness Kennedy has also attacked the Town Hall over its closure plan. 

The celebrity outrage has been matched by condemnation from leading hospital consultants and mental health charities the Alzheimer’s Society and Sane.

The centre provides a refuge for elderly people suffering acute memory loss and confusion. Council bosses came under fire this week after consultancy firm Innovations in Dementia was hired to interview dementia victims without their family carers present.

The firm stunned carers after the views of dozens of memory-loss victims were condensed into a report supporting the centre’s closure.

Viviana Fain Binda, a dementia expert who relied on the centre to look after her mum, has lodged an official complaint.

In a letter to the Town Hall, she said: “It seemed extraordinary to all of us carers that this person had singlehand­edly succeeded in maintaining conversations and extracting lucid conclusions from our loved ones with Alzheimer’s where countless professionals and family carers repeatedly fail.

“It has been a futile exercise wasting everybody’s time, upsetting many people and – if this was paid work – squandering our money. It is indefensible.”

The Alzheimer’s Society said in a statement: “People with dementia are without the mental capacity to answer questions about their care needs. Their family carers are able to provide this information in full.”

The eight-page report from Innovations in Dementia revealed that consultant Rachael Litherland spoke to patients during bingo sessions, on minibus tours and while “sharing a cup of tea”. The report acknowledged “a small number of service users at Netherwood know about the proposal to close their service and have expressed anxieties about this”.

A council spokes­woman said: “We wrote to all carers in advance of our meetings, explaining our approach, and gave the option of gathering information from carers instead if that was felt to be more appropriate.

“We believe the report has been helpful in hearing the voices of people with dementia who use Netherwood.”

A public consultation on cuts triggered by the axing of £16million from Camden Council’s adult social care budget has ended. 

Councillor Pat Callaghan, the Town Hall’s adult social care chief, has said she would delay closure, originally intended for July, to September.

Netherwood carers will be marching at Saturday’s anti-cuts demo in London.


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