WEST Berkshire Council is confident that it can close a crumbling care home in Thatcham and move the elderly residents safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The council is looking to shut Walnut Close Care Home and move the 17 residents and 25 full-time staff to other care homes it runs.

The closure could save the council around £330,000 a year if it is approved at a meeting on Thursday, November 19.

The plans have been in the pipeline for months, but the council says the Covid-19 pandemic “necessitates more urgent action” because the care home only has shared bathrooms (with no ensuites) and this is making infection control difficult.

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Councillor Graham Bridgman, lead member for adult social care, said every resident will be tested before and after they are moved.

He also said thorough risk assessments will be carried out before each resident is moved and the project will be suspended if there are Covid-19 outbreaks in any of the homes.

The Conservative councillor added: “We’re not going to rush. We’re going to take as much time as we need.

“With the elderly, there are always going to be risks, but those risks have been mitigated.

“They will be moving into a much better setting for us to deal with any possible Covid incidents.”

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He said the care home was hit by a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this year, but it is not currently dealing with any cases.

Most of the residents and staff are now due to be moved to Birchwood Care Home in Newbury, but could be sent to Willows Edge in Newbury and Notrees Care Home in Hungerford.

The three care homes have a total of 40 vacancies and the council says there is “an opportunity to consolidate”.

Cllr Alan Marco, the shadow portfolio holder for adult social care, said: “They need to wait until the pandemic has subsided before they start moving people.

“They need reliable testing, so they can be sure that anybody who does move has tested negative before they go.

“They also need to make sure the home they are moving into doesn’t have any positive cases either.”

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He added: “In understand the reason behind the closure. The home is rather old-fashioned, and it doesn’t have any ensuite facilities, which makes infection control very difficult.

“But how was the structure of the home allowed to deteriorate to such a point where they’ve had to actually close rooms. It sounds like maintenance has been neglected over the years.”

According to the council, the care home is no longer fit for purpose and £150,000 worth of building work needs to be completed this year to ensure it remains safe for residents.

It used to accommodate 35 residents, but 10 rooms are currently vacant and seven are closed.

The council is also hoping that it will save money by redeploying full-time staff to other care homes that are currently relying on expensive agency staff to fill vacancies.

Birchwood Care Home has struggled to recruit full-time staff in recent years and in 2019/20 it spent over £1.3 million on agency staff.