Judge Saves Council £650k A Year Care Package Bill

ST HELENS council has avoided having to pick up the bill for “possibly the most expensive care package in the country”, after a High Court ruling.

Mrs Justice Dobbs said she deplored that public money had been spent on thrashing out in court whether the woman should be the responsibility of St Helens or Manchester Councils.

Last night, St Helens said it was pleased that it would be able to spend the £650,000-a-year care bill for a vulnerable woman on people who live in St Helens.

The woman in her 30s, referred to as “P”, is stricken by a severe mental disorder which leads to her “dissociating” into four alternative identities.

She needs careful monitoring by a team of council carers, both day and night, at a staggering cost of £650,000-a-year. Mrs Justice Dobbs said it was “possibly the most expensive care package in the country”.

The dispute between the two councils stemmed from the fact St Helens originally assessed P’s care needs in 2000 and for a long timed picked up the bill, even after “P” was moved to a three-bedroom house in Greater Manchester.

By 2005, however, St Helens was balking at continuing to fund P’s care and argued that, as she is now “ordinarily resident” in Manchester, the city council should pay.

Lawyers for St Helens pointed out it is a small local authority by comparison with Manchester, with tight budgetary constraints.

At London’s High Court, Manchester challenged St Helens’s May, 2008, decision to “terminate” P’s care regime and pass the baton to Manchester, arguing it had a “legitimate expectation” that St Helens would continue to meet the bill.

Mrs Justice Dobbs, however, rejected Manchester’s case. She declined to rule which council was responsible for P’s care, although observing that Manchester was obliged to assess her needs as she was resident in the city.

However, the judge added that this does not mean the city council is under a legal duty to “carry on with the same care package” for “P” as that laid on by St Helens, which has been looking after P since she was a child.

The judge observed: “It is unattractive to see two publicly funded bodies becoming engaged in expensive litigation in this way.”

P’s case has already led to costly litigation in the High Court and Court of Appeal, in which St Helens and Manchester Primary Care Trust clashed over her care costs.

Manchester has seven days to seek permission from the Court of Appeal to bring proceedings.

Cllr Suzanne Knight, executive member for adult social care and health at St Helens said: “Hopefully, we can now focus on spending that money on the people who live in St Helens to improve their quality of life.

“The council regrets having to take proceedings against another public authority and would have preferred to reach a negotiated settlement.

“However, we are determined to ensure that the cost of this care package is met by P’s local authority, rather than the council tax payers of St Helens.”