Friday, 27 November 2020

Bus subsidy cut would force 99-year-old into home

A MAN fears his 99-year-old mother will have to go into a care home if a bus route

A MAN fears his 99-year-old mother will have to go into a care home if a bus route to her village is axed.

Hilda Tarsnane, of Whitchurch Hill, has advanced Alzheimer’s disease and must be constantly supervised as she cannot look after herself.

A number of carers live with her on a rota basis and regularly travel to Reading to do her shopping and banking while she attends a day centre in Wallingford.

The carers, who work for a private agency and are part-funded by Oxfordshire County Council, rely on Thames Travel’s 143 bus from Reading to Whitchurch Hill, which is under threat.

The Oxfordshire leg is subsidised by the county council but the authority is set to cut its £3.7million subsidised transport budget in a bid to reduce costs, meaning operators would have to pay to keep these services running.

Thames Travel has not yet decided whether to make up the shortfall or terminate the 143 at Pangbourne, a two-mile walk with no pavement from Whitchurch Hill.

Mrs Tarsnane’s 70-year-old son Robin, who lives in north London, fears his mother would have to go into a care home if this happened.

He says such a change could kill her as she has lived in the village for 30 years and would not understand why she was being moved.

Mr Tarsnane said: “Sadly, Mum’s carers just aren’t paid enough to have cars. I’ve asked the council how they’re supposed to reach people in rural areas but I’m still waiting for a reply.

“This will hit the most vulnerable and isolated people hardest and trying to get any answers is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

“That bus is a lifeline as Mum would be totally and utterly out of her depth without her carers. They’d have to go by taxi and I can’t imagine anyone funding that.

“Mum pays the other half of her care costs and in theory she’d have to put her hand in her pocket but she’s already paying the most she can afford.

“By removing the bus subsidy, the council has shot itself in the foot — it didn’t think the consequences through. I’m trying to keep Mum out of a care home because I honestly believe it could be the end of her. However, without a bus service in place, I’m worried the council might see that as the cheapest solution.”

Mrs Tarsnane, who turns 100 in May, was diagnosed with dementia about eight years ago. She now experiences severe confusion and would forget to eat meals without prompting.

However, her son says she still recognises her own home and feels at ease there.

The widow and her late husband Bernard, a former colonel, lived on army bases around the world before settling in Whitchurch Hill in the mid-Eighties.

She was an active member of the community before she became ill and used to sing in the choir at the village church. Mr Tarsnane said: “The whole area is still familiar to her — she’s very happy in her own little world though she has no idea what’s going on around her.

“She has been to hospital a few times and really didn’t like the unfamiliarity. You could tell she was relieved when she came back home.

“I once asked her if she felt she’d be better off in a care home. She just took my hand, held it tightly and almost started crying. It’s a terribly sad idea and one I want to avoid unless there’s literally no other choice.

“This shows there’s a very real human cost when these decisions are made.”

Thames Travel said it had received many enquiries from passengers about the future of the 143 but had not yet made a decision.

Mr Tarsnane wrote to Henley MP John Howell outlining his concerns. He replied that he was in talks with local bus companies to see if he could help keep services running without the subsidy.

Mr Howell said: “The decision on cuts to bus subsidies is a matter for the county council and one over which I have no power. At this stage the decision is not final... [and] I hope you have made your views known to the county council.

“I completely understand your concerns but the withdrawal of a bus subsidy does not necessarily mean the service would be cancelled.” The county council said Mrs Tarsnane’s case was being reviewed but it was the care agency’s responsibility to “consider travel options” if bus services changed.

A spokesman said that her shopping and banking could be done online.

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