A group of seven service users secured an unprecedented legal victory; after they stoped the council’s plans to shut down Omnicare’s community centre and hostel. Solicitor’s Irwin Mitchell, winners of Law Practice of the Year 2008, represented the group of seven in calling for a judicial review of the council plans.
Omnicare was set up to plug a care gap that had left many black service users destitute once they were discharged from hospital. The 26-year-old service is the only one of its kind in the City. It provides culturally appropriate support as well as shelter to people from African Caribbean communities, who have often been turned away by other services.
Birmingham City Councils moves to pull the plug without consultations with the client groups or plans the substitute the services they provide led to a nine month battle to keep the services open.
This legal victory has brought to light the council’s failure in its legal duties to conduct a Race Equality Impact Assessment or take into account the consequences of shutting down these services. Birmingham City Council’s strategic director for adult and community services Peter Hay has written to Omnicare confirming funding for the service will now be extended until September 2009.
Omnicare’s clients are hoping that after a proper consultation funding for this service will continue.
Elvera Wallace, has been a regular client at Omnicare for the last eight years and is a member of the group that secured a lawyer to oppose plans to axe the services.
‘We felt we had to try and do something to help save the service. The lawyer who interviewed us reassured us that we did have a case, and we knew what the council were doing to us wasn’t right.
The help and support that you get here isn’t available anywhere else in this city. If Omnicare were to close down it would be damaging for my mental health. People become withdrawn after having mental illness, and a supportive place like this, where you feel safe means that you can start to come out of your shell and that is part of the recovery process.’
Jackie Forrester, was also a member of the service user team that supported the legal action to keep Omnicare open. ‘I felt triumphant when we got the good news that the council had stop their plans, they were at fault in the first place. We weren’t even consulted that the service would be closed. There should be investments made in a place like this because so many of us depend on the services.’
‘This news gives hope and if they can achieve this there is no reason why a successful services which has been serving the community successfully on a shoestring should not be allowed to keep on going. This reprieve makes for a very good start to the New Year,’ Alicia Spence health expert and community activist services director at the African Caribbean Community Initiative (ACCI) a supporter of Omnicare said.
‘Commissioning services should be based on needs and decommissioning should be based on the premise that the services are not meeting the needs they were set up to address. This begs the question, of how Birmingham City Council came to the decision to decommission Omnicare when it is meeting the needs of service users,’ Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said.