A PROBE will be launched into why it took Scottish Borders Council’s social work department eight months to determine whether a brain-damaged Hawick man should be provided with a ramp outside his home.
In the event, council officials decided that Les Nichol, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), was not eligible for funding.
But the delay over a bid which, if approved, would have allowed him to come and go on a mobility scooter, has left him, on his own admission, “a prisoner in my own home”.
“I haven’t been to Hawick High Street under my own steam since last year’s common riding,” said Mr Nichol, 59, who lives in a Waverley Housing flat in The Loan at the west end of the town.
His case was taken up last year by Steven Turnbull, chairman of the brain injury charity Heads Together.
“Not only has Les been stuck in his house for the best part of a year, but he has fallen into a depression, which is hardly surprising, after being told six weeks ago by two social work staff – a team leader and an occupational therapist – that his funding bid has been refused,” said Mr Turnbull. As a result of two bouts of pneumonia, Mr Nichol, in addition to a previously sustained brain injury, suffers from COPD which means he is out of breath after walking less than 10 paces.
“Our charity helped Les prepare a funding bid from SBC’s social work department because of his circumstances,” explained Mr Turnbull. “Until recently, we had no reason to suppose he would not get the ramp to cover two steps which are on communal ground, owned by the Scottish Borders Housing Association, leading from his flat to the steep main road.
“There are a further three steps right outside his front door which he must negotiate, but he was also looking for funding to erect a small shed in which he could keep his mobility scooter. He would then be able to negotiate the two stairs and get out into the street.
“Last year, we combined with another brain injury charity, the Act Foundation, to purchase the vehicle and, three times, his council occupational therapist did not turn up when she was due to take him to check out the scooter at a shop in Selkirk. Now we know why, and it’s a sad fact that, today, that scooter is still in the shop.
“I contacted the council on numerous occasions during this so-called review period and was unable to pin them down. Eventually came the news that he was not eligible, which I find incredible given his severe disability. I can only conclude this decision is about saving money, not serving the best interests of a disabled service user, which is sickening.”
After news of the rejection was conveyed to a distraught Mr Nichol, Mr Turnbull contacted a number of local businesses in Hawick to see if they would be prepared to step into the breach.
“I am delighted to say that local builder Paul Kendall, surveyor Peter Ferguson, builders merchants Jewsons and Telfer the Blacksmith are all prepared to give their services free of charge to carry out this simple piece of work, estimated to cost around £1,500, which will completely transform the life of Mr Nichol.
“I believe the system, in the shape of the social work department, has really let him down and I hate to think how many other deserving cases are being sidelined or stalled because council staff are either too busy or have been instructed not the spend money.”
A council spokesperson responded: “The council can advise that this is a very complex case where a full assessment has been undertaken which involved seeking advice and clarification from a range of housing providers and agencies.
“When completed, the outcome of the assessment did not meet the social work department’s critical or substantial eligibility criteria for installation of a ramp.
“In these circumstances, we will always try to advise about other solutions as appropriate in line with the person’s needs and situation.
“A complaint into the delay and the assessment process has been received and we will fully review this in line with our complaints procedure.”
Mr Turnbull said he hoped Mr Nichol’s case would, indeed, by properly investigated.
“So far, all that social work has given him is a manually operated wheelchair which is absolutely useless given the two sets of stairs and the fact that The Loan is one of the steepest streets in Hawick. Mr Nichol lives on his own and would need someone to push the chair. That is why the ramp and storage shed are so important.”
A planning application from Mr Nichol, seeking permission for the ramp and the erection of the shed for the scooter, has been submitted to SBC on his behalf by Mr Ferguson. The bid, still to be determined, has elicited no objections.