Mencap in ultimatum to health authority

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

Mencap is to take North Birmingham Health Authority to court this week unless it rescinds today its decision to cancel the mental handicap charity's contract to run three community care homes.

Lawyers for Mencap have given the authority until 4pm today to respond to a letter refuting the authority's claim it provided too little stimulation to residents in the homes and allowed them to spend too much time watching television.

Assuming the authority backs down or Mencap wins its injunction, "we will then consider what damages or apologies to seek", Fred Heddell, Mencap's chief executive, said.

Solicitors have "prepared our case in depth, including our responses to all the criticisms and allegations we have received", he said. "We are demanding that they withdraw both those and the notice of termination of the contract."

Mencap's aggressive stance reflects both the reputation it has to protect and also the findings of a social services inspection which broadly coincided with the health authority's complaints and which concluded that the homes had "a wide range of activities that clearly promote ability and a good quality of life".

There does appear to have been a clash of views at the homes between health professionals from the North Birmingham Community NHS Trust, which the authority wants to take over the contract, and relatives of the adult residents.

The professional staff, the social services inspection records, want stimulating evening activities for the residents, while relatives feel they should be allowed free time.

Graham Coomber, the health authority's chief executive, is understood to have offered Mencap a meeting to discuss the authority's concerns and decision. As Mencap is on notice to quit the home in 10 days, it is awaiting today's response before deciding to accept the invitation.