Health chiefs have been urged to change their minds and restore funding for an advice line for the disabled.
Two senior members of the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) sat through a succession of angry and passionate pleas and questions from councillors.
The exchanges ended with a formal request from members of Brighton and Hove City Council for the CCG to rethink the £29,000 cut in funding for Possability People.
The charity’s chief officer Geraldine Des Moulins told the council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) that they were given less than three weeks’ notice that their funding was being cut.
Ms Des Moulins told the committee that Possability People runs a range of services to support people with disabilities and had seen a huge increase in demand for its services, helping thousands of people a year.
Alternative providers suggested by the CCG were either inaccessible or already oversubscribed, she said.
She added: “There are people coming to our doors who cannot even open an envelope without our support because their anxiety levels are so high.
“We are the only service that offers a drop in.”
Ms Des Moulins said that the charity, which won a Queen’s Award for its work, should have had three months’ notice and knew the funding was being reviewed.
She told the committee that it felt as though all the supporting information sent to the CCG disappeared into a “black hole”.
The CCG’s clinical chair, David Supple, and director of commissioning Ashley Scarff faced tough questioning as councillors highlighted how the cuts hit some of the most vulnerable members of society.
Green councillor Tom Druitt asked why the CCG had not told the council that it was withdrawing funding during budget meetings in November and December, before the councl set its budget in February.
At a joint meeting of the council, Possability People and the CCG in December, he said that the council was told that no decision had been made about funding for the charity’s contract.
Councillor Druitt said: “If we had known, we could have proposed an amendment to the council budget and retained the service.
“It just seems the CCG has withheld information or not made a decision, twice, ahead of the council budget.
“If in November we were told it was at risk, or in December or at any point in January, we would have had the opportunity in February to plug the gap.
“There seems like a lot of wasted opportunities.
“I think the least CCG should do in the circumstances is at least maintain the funding until other arrangements can be made or the council can look into its own pots to see whether it can plug the gap.
“Really the CCG has not allowed any of that to happen.”
Dr Supple said that there was an issue with “a lack of alignment” in the way that the council and CCG set their budgets.
Mr Scarff said: “Prior to January we were not able to confirm future funding.
“We should have been more blunt, saying the funding was at risk.
“It is organisational terminology. We were not in a position to confirm the funds. We should have shared that more overtly with the council.”
Green councillor Steph Powell told the committee that she used to work for Possability People in 2014.
During her time working for Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, she would refer disabled people to the service for help with their PIP (personal independence payments).
She said: “These cuts target the most vulnerable group in the city. To think this is okay is astonishing … This decision is disgusting.”
Labour councillor Amanda Grimshaw told the meeting that she had helped many people fill out their PIP forms as they were often hard to understand.
She said that the CCG funding was much cheaper than even a modest number of those who were helped ending up in A&E – and “incredibly good value for money”.
She said: “Disabled people are a protected group and there are no other providers.
“This is a terrible decision.”
Conservative councillor Alistair McNair raised the issue of prevention being better than cure, highlighting that some disabled people also suffered from mental health issues.
Dr Supple agreed in principle but said that the NHS did not work that way. He said: “That is the reality of the NHS and how it is set up.
“Prevention is always the most cost-effective way of spending money but we cannot do that. It is the difficult reality of where we are.”
Dr Supple told the committee that difficult decisions had to be made when it came to spending money. He said: “We have thought about it. It is not an easy thing. It is emotive. It is not something staff enjoy doing.
“In reality we have a mandate and have to make decisions on how to spend money.
“The contract has been running for quite a long time. What we have to do is review our non-mandated commissioning.”
Green councillor Lizzie Deane, who chairs the committee, agreed to write to the CCG, urging it to reinstate funding. Her offer was unanimously agreed.
Her letter will ask for a copy of the equalities impact assessment which was supposed to have been carried out before the decision to cut the funding but which the committee was told appeared to have been made afterwards.