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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
RAF veteran care home to close

By Caroline Briggs
BBC News Online

Royal Air Force veterans, many of whom fought in World War II, have been told their charity-run care home is to close.

The RAF Benevolent Fund plans to shut Alastrean House, in Tarland, Aberdeenshire, which currently cares for 40 full-time residents - all former RAF members and their dependents.

Trustees of the fund said the welfare of the residents, aged between 56 and 99, remained their "prime concern" throughout the closure.

But concerns have been raised about the impact on the residents and the local rural economy.

Alastrean House - RAF Benevolent Fund
Alastrean House is situated in Royal Deeside
The fund said the decision had not been taken lightly and blamed a downturn in the global markets since the September 11 atrocities.

Morag Heslop, the daughter of an 88-year-old resident who was honoured with a Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II, said she was saddened at the news.

"It took us by surprise and I was immediately worried about my dad being upset.

"To be moving people at their age into a different environment is a worry.

"The residents thought they would be there for life and to have the upset of finding they are not going to be there until they die is very difficult to come to terms with."

Fund spokesman John Pearce told BBC News Online the closure would be phased, with those who did not require nursing care the first to go. One option would for residents to move to a local authority-run home.

Nursing standards

He said: "We have 30 residents who are elderly and have chosen to live at Alastrean, but who do not need nursing care.

"We will give them and their families as much help as possible over the next two years to find a suitable alternative home.

"Those who require nursing care will continue to receive it at Alastrean until we can find somewhere that offers the same level of care.

"The fund will offer support by bridging the gap between the amount a local authority will contribute and the fees charged by their new care home."

But Mrs Heslop said she was concerned that the standard of nursing at Alastrean would not be matched elsewhere.

History of Alastrean House
Alastrean House was built at the turn of the century for the Marquis of Aberdeen
It passed to the MacRobert family, the owners of the estate, in 1934
Lady MacRobert later lost her three sons in flying tragedies - two while flying in the RAF
The house was leased to the fund in 1984 by the MacRobert Trust to provide a care home in Scotland
She said: "Alastrean House is very well run, and speaking as a nurse myself, I have never seen elderly care like it, it is second to none.

"I would hope they would get the same level of care at whatever home the go to, but that cannot be guaranteed."

Mr Pearce said the 24-hour nursing care at Alastrean, provided by a staff of over 60, was exceptional.

He said: "We are very proud of our nursing standards, but it has come at a price.

"There are other good homes out there and we will endeavour to find the best possible places for our residents."

The fund's only other home, at Rustington, West Sussex, will close its doors to new long-term cases, but may accept some Alastrean residents.

Local jobs

Mike Rumbles, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Liberal Democrat MSP, said: "I'm very disappointed about it and I think it is extremely sad the RAF Benevolent Fund are doing this.

"The decision to close is not even open for discussion as far as the fund trustees are concerned.

"It is devastating for the residents, the local community and the north of Scotland as a whole as a lot of jobs depend on Alastrean."

Air Chief Marshal Sir David Cousins, the fund's controller, said that closing Alastrean would allow them to help more people.

He said: "Last year, the fund spent more than 30m helping 33,000 past and present members of the RAF and their dependants which was 7m more than we received in income.

"By concentrating our care for the elderly in public or privately run homes, we will be able to spend more on members of the RAF Family who might be in need or distress through hardship, illness or disability."


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