Shock as health project faces closure


Pilton Community Health provides a range of services such as cookery classes, counselling, physical activities and support for vulnerable women. Pilton is one of Edinburgh's poorest areas. 

Pilton Community Health Project has had its funding slashed by the council and health board operating under Edinburgh Integrated Joint Board 

11th December 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Scotland’s oldest community health project, which has rebuilt and transformed thousands of lives in some of the country’s most deprived communities, is facing imminent closure.

Pilton Community Health Project (PCHP), formed in 1984 to reduce health inequalities in North Edinburgh, received the shock news last week that its funding from Edinburgh Council and NHS Lothian was set to be pulled.

Now furious project staff, volunteers and supporters are planning to protest at the City Chambers ahead of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board on Friday morning in a bid to have the decision thrown out.

The project employs 35 staff and 40 volunteers, and carries out a range of projects to support communities in the capital.

An application to the Integrated Joint Board (IJB) for renewal of ongoing funding of £220,000 a year for each of the next three years, to cover core costs and specific projects was rejected. It includes funding for work to tackle social isolation and health inequalities including youth counselling, support for vulnerable women, physical activity and cookery sessions. The decision is set to be rubber-stamped later this week.

The charity has received council and NHS funding for 30 years and annual reviews have consistently shown that targets have been met or exceeded. Project staff said they received no indication that funding would stop.

Graham Rae, chairman of the PCHP board, said: “Pilton Community Health Project has proudly served this community for over 30 years and helped thousands of people make positive and long-lasting changes in their lives. This decision has come completely out of the blue and left the people of North Edinburgh and the project staff facing a miserable Christmas and a bleak future.

“To receive this news from nowhere last week with just seven days’ notice of the council’s decision is unacceptable and uncaring. We were told by email without any explanation of the reasons behind the decision, and without any thought for the impact this will have on the community and staff.

“We deserve a full explanation and the opportunity to make our case to the Integration Joint Board before it rushes to a decision that will have devastating impact on people’s lives. We will not go quietly.”

Protests outside the City Chambers are planned early on Friday morning before the board meets at 9.30am. The papers to the board acknowledge that the removal of the project’s funding “may result in a significant loss of health and wellbeing services in this locality” and that the cuts will impact "those vulnerable to falling into poverty”, “minority ethnic people” and “those with mental health issues”.

Ben MacPherson, MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, praised the project’s vital work.

“At a time when issues such as mental health and food poverty are at the top of the political agenda it is perverse that the City of Edinburgh Council is taking a decision such as this,” he said.

“I have seen for myself the amazing difference that Pilton Community Health Project has made to the people of north Edinburgh. It serves communities with some of the highest levels of deprivation in Scotland yet instils a sense of positivity and belief.

“This is another example of the impact of the UK Government’s austerity agenda. While local authorities across the UK are having to make difficult financial decisions, funding for critical services cannot be completely removed at the drop of a hat. The council must rethink this decision.”

Local resident Karen has been involved with PCHP for more than three years. She said: “PCHP is like a family – friendly, open minded. As soon as I came through the door, I just got on with my life.

“PCHP has made a big difference to my life.  I never used to go out due to depression and anxiety. I’ve got lots of support, it has opened my eyes to healthier living and eating, feeling better and feeding my kids better. I’ve made new friends and even been on training courses here.

“My life would be so different if PCHP wasn’t here. It would knock me back. Due to this place I have my life back.”

Councillor Ricky Henderson, chair of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board said: “This is a new process for allocating grants which I strongly believe meets our strategic objectives for providing health and social care services across Edinburgh.

“Following the EIJB decision in November 2017 to review the grant programmes for those inherited from the council and NHS Lothian, a steering group was formed and a grants programme was co-produced with the voluntary sector and subsequently agreed by the EIJB in August 2018.

“The steering group completed a robust and well thought out application and assessment process. Training and advice surgeries were held for applicants throughout and following the closing date an independent chair was appointed to moderate the allocation programme – ensuring objective and impartial decisions.

“The EIJB will consider the recommendations of sharing £14.2m from the grants review steering group at our next meeting on 14 December.”