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Serious concern over government's free nursing care policy

Older clients are missing out on free nursing care despite government promises under the residential funding system launched in October 2001.

19 February 2002

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Under the government scheme, nursing homes should receive one of three bands of payment depending on a resident’s requirements: £110, £70 or £35 per week. Money is paid to the homes with the intention that it is passed on to their residents. However, residents are not seeing any benefit because nursing homes are keeping some or all of the money by raising their fees. Philip Scott, managing director of Southern Cross Healthcare Services Ltd, said they were forced to withhold the exact amount of money awarded to each resident in order to meet the costs of the new minimum care standards for care homes, which comes into effect from April 2002. Similarly, Dr Chai Patel of Westminster Healthcare has warned that financial pressures have pushed care homes to crisis point. Many homes have already closed because fees are too low to maintain standards, a trend that could have worrying significance for the future care of an expanding elderly population.

Charities have been particularly critical of the government’s implementation of free nursing care Age Concern England has likened the policy to a lottery dependent on the home in which the resident lives. Unless the older client is lucky enough to live in a home that passes the relevant NHS supplement on, the resident is unlikely to see the benefits of free nursing care. Age concern also says that the accompanying government guidance does little to help older people as it is impractical to suggest that residents in nursing homes must pursue their complaints though the law of contract, particularly as older people are not in an even-handed negotiating position when it comes to their fee levels.

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