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Kent County Council to overhaul service for deaf and blind residents

Some of the county's charities are under threat as Kent County Council is set to overhaul its service for deaf and blind residents.

The Kent Association for the Blind (KAB) and Hi Kent could lose their main source of income as the council is considering whether to renew their contracts.

Council officers claim paying for KAB and Hi Kent to run rehabilitation and assessment services for the sensory-impaired is unsustainable as the funding is reliant on yearly grants.

The Kent Association for the Blind (KAB) and Hi Kent could lose their main source of income as KCC considers renewing their contracts
The Kent Association for the Blind (KAB) and Hi Kent could lose their main source of income as KCC considers renewing their contracts

Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem) is worried about the impact on the two charities if KCC no longer pay for the services.

At the last adult social care cabinet committee, she said: "The grant that we [KCC] provide KAB represents 32% of their income and the grant that we provide Hi Kent represents 44% of their income.

"KAB and Hi Kent have been in operation for many years and they have a very high profile in their relative areas and a large supportive network of people who fund, on a voluntary basis, their work.

"So I don't want the county council to be doing something that will in any way undermine that credibility or involve a loss of volunteers and the body of work that they do."

KCC's senior commissioner Samantha Sheppard assured councillors that while there were concerns about the future of the organisations, "there is also a significant opportunity especially in terms of the specialist support services, which they are quite uniquely placed to deliver".

Despite these fears Cllr Dean said the decision was the "right thing to do" for the council.

Cllr. Trudy Dean
Cllr. Trudy Dean

This is because plans are in motion to consolidate all the provisions for sensory-impaired people into a single assessment and rehab service for Kent with the hope of saving money, improving outcomes and reducing duplication.

Currently the services are provided by four different organisations: Hi Kent, Kent Association for the Blind (KAB), Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT) and the KCC in-house Sensory Services Team.

Hearing impairment help for those under 65 is run by KCC, while older residents are cared for by Hi Kent.

Adults with sight impairment are assessed by KAB, while those with disabilities in west Kent go to the KCHFT sensory team.

Samantha Sheppard wrote in a report how people are experiencing visits from multiple professionals due to confusion.

She added: "Data indicates that the number of people within the population with sensory impairments will increase over the next decade both through older people living longer with age related sensory deterioration, and through younger people being born with complex, multiple sensory issues.

Hi Kent chief executive John Clayton
Hi Kent chief executive John Clayton

"In addition, there is a strategic direction of travel towards local care and

services which are integrated with health.

"It is therefore important to design a service that not only improves outcomes

now, but which is fit for the future."

Despite this move, chief executive of Hi Kent, John Clayton, says there would be no job losses and the service would "remain unchanged".

He said: "There is nothing new here, we have known for some months that our existing contract with KCC was not going to be renewed and have made plans accordingly.

"Although the immediate future means some things will be done differently, we have always enjoyed a good working relationship with Kent County Council and this will continue.

Kent Association for the Blind chief executive Eithne Rynne
Kent Association for the Blind chief executive Eithne Rynne

"Going forward I am very confident that Hi Kent will survive and become even stronger.

"Our clients need have no fears, our loyal staff and volunteers will continue to be there for them, as we have been for the last 33 years."

Chief executive of KAB, Eithne Rynne, also says her team would continue to work with the council to ensure "continuity".

She said: "We were expecting for some time, as previously advised, that the statutory rehabilitation service would be commissioned through an open tender process in line with KCC’s transformation agenda.

"Naturally, we are disappointed with the news that KCC will now be transferring the rehabilitation service in-house."

She added KAB would continue to provide support and wellbeing services like Talking Newspapers and social groups with a keen interest to "extend and develop" further.

She said: "We will be looking to our wonderful volunteers to help us build and grow our work so we can continue to deliver excellent services to sight impaired people in Kent for many more years to come."

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