A major protest over the future of Sheffield’s learning disabilities service will be heard at a council debate.
More than 5,000 people signed a petition opposing the ‘potential privatisation’ of the service, triggering a debate next Wednesday at the Town Hall.
The council is considering hiring a private firm to run the supported living service, which includes the learning disabilities department, with trade union Unison claiming it will be sold ‘to the cheapest bidder’.
Losing the contract and winding down the service would cost the NHS millions, according to the union.
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The petition says: “This service has been run for nearly 40 years by the health service to a high standard and should not be auctioned off to the lowest tender.”
The council is urged to drop outsourcing proposals and to work with the health service instead to maintain and improve standards.
Semi-retired business consultant Dr John Carlisle, who is among the protesters, said: “Changing a supplier is an incredibly risky decision. These vulnerable users have grown to trust their carers and the routines they have. All that is going to be thrown up in the air.”
But Coun Mary Lea, cabinet member for health, care and independent living, said the authority could not ‘ignore the need to explore whether services can be delivered more cost effectively’.
“We will listen to the petitioners with interest and debate the issues,” she said.
“However, we have a duty to do all we can to improve the daily lives of people with learning disabilities. We also need to meet the increasing demand for services.
“But I’d like to be absolutely clear that cost and quality are not competing factors. We can reduce costs and improve quality at the same time.”
Coun Lea added: “I understand that change can be unsettling for people and, if someone’s carers change as a result of this work, we will support them through.”