Victory Over Care ‘Lottery’ For Elderly

Thousands of gravely ill older people will no longer have to spend their savings or sell their homes to pay for round-the-clock medical care, under government guidelines to be revealed this week. Ministers are unveiling measures to tackle the ‘postcode lottery’ that gives pensioners in some areas free nursing care, but forces others in England to fork out tens of thousands of pounds.

Around 70,000 senior citizens are thought to be victims of a scandal caused by some local councils and NHS trusts refusing to take on the expensive burden of looking after older people who have terminal conditions such as cancer and dementia. Ivan Lewis, the Care Minister, will this week unveil guidelines setting out exactly which conditions will entitle the severely ill to receive free care, regardless of where they live. However, the guidelines apply only to nursing and medical care, and not to the range of social care services.

Social care is being increasingly rationed by councils as they face funding pressure, as The Observer has highlighted in its Dignity at Home campaign. Lewis will announce new national eligibility criteria to end the huge regional variations in who pays and in what medical circumstances. One Department of Health source admitted that the number of those receiving wholly free care would rise, but ‘not by a large amount’.

Age Concern claims around 100,000 people should get free nursing care but that only 31,000 do so because until now councils and primary care trusts have exploited their ability to interpret the rules in order to save money. Gordon Lishman, director-general of Age Concern, said: ‘Fundamental reform of the health and social care system is urgently required if we are to stop failing disgracefully high numbers of older people.’

The Local Government Association, which represents local authorities in England and Wales, said councils could not cope with the growing demands for services for older people, and greater Whitehall funding was urgently needed. ‘We have been warning the government for the past two years that the situation for the elderly was worsening,’ said Lord Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, the LGA’s chairman.

‘There must be funding found for the increasing numbers of elderly people who need care in their homes. They need it, and they deserve it. The demand for care is rising much more swiftly than our resources, and it’s very hard to understand why older people are not being treated as a priority.’