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Call for respite care to be reinstated at Thor House in Thurso 'for the sake of families'

By Gordon Calder

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Respite care at Thor House in Thurso has been stopped since the coronavirus pandemic and families have been told to go elsewhere for the service, according to a Caithness Highland councillor.

Matthew Reiss highlighted the situation at a meeting of the local community council this week and called on Highland Council to reinstate the facility immediately.

He pointed out that respite care was stopped across the Highlands because of the Covid crisis but argued that it should be provided again now at Thor House "for the sake of families".

Thor House.
Thor House.

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"That would not be very difficult," the Thurso and Northwest Caithness Highland councillor said. He acknowledged staffing could be an issue but added: "It is not a very satisfactory state of affairs."

Community councillor Iain Gregory said some parents are "at end of their tether" and stressed the local service is "very, very important".

Fellow community councillor Elspeth Husband agreed and said it is "disappointing" families are being directed elsewhere when there is a facility here. "It is important the service is retained in Caithness," she said.

Chairwoman Thelma Mackenzie said children, those with respite needs and staff are all being affected by what is happening at Thor House and Avonlea care home in Wick.

Cllr Reiss said councillors have been told respite care would be reinstated at Thor House but he said that "should be happening now".

Thor House is a custom built facility designed to provide a range of services for people with learning disabilities. The two main services it provides are a four-bedroomed respite unit, providing short stay respite breaks; and a 15-place day centre, providing daycare for adults and children.

Cllr Reiss also gave the community council an update on what is happening at the Avonlea care home in Wick.

He explained that earlier this year the local authority said the centre was to close but shortly afterwards said it would not be shutting.

Matthew Reiss wants respite care reinstated at Thor House. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Matthew Reiss wants respite care reinstated at Thor House. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Cllr Reiss revealed that councillors had been informed at a confidential briefing that a review would be undertaken but added: "We are not sure what is going on. It is not a very satisfactory state of affairs."

Meanwhile, users of the care home are said to be still waiting for clarity on its future – more than three weeks after Highland Council announced the facility was not closing but being "temporarily vacated".

A spokesperson for the local authority said this week that Avonlea’s use will be considered as part of a wider review of the health and social care service and reiterated that the council’s ambition is to reduce the number of children and young people in residential care. The decision came after a hard-hitting report by the Care Inspectorate.

The £1.2 million home opened in the town's West Banks Avenue eight years ago. It was described at the time as providing "a high-quality environment" for young people aged 12 to 16.

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