Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Saturday, 30 January 2010

Warning on free elderly homecare

By Brian Milligan
Business reporter, BBC News

Eldery person. Picture posed by a model
The government says it plans will cut the number of people in homes

It has been claimed that thousands of elderly people in England could be sent to care homes unnecessarily.

The government wants to provide 110,000 more people with free personal care in their own homes.

But the UK Homecare Association says in some cases it may be cheaper for cash-strapped councils to use residential care rather than homecare.

The Department of Health says the change will reduce the number of people in residential care, not increase it.

The plans for 110,000 more elderly people to get free homecare is outlined in the government's Personal Care Bill, which gets its second reading in the House of Lords on Monday.

The UK Homecare Association fears more people may be sent to a residential or nursing home as a result, because at the moment most people have to pay a proportion of the cost under a means-tested process.

Colin Angel, of the United Kingdom Homecare Association, thinks councils may therefore have a incentive to put people in homes unnecessarily.

"I am quite worried. That's a real possibility," he said.

'Appropriate care'

But the Department of Health denies people would be forced into a home against their will.

We're already the most efficient part of the public sector, and we can't count the money twice
Jeremy Beecham, Local Government Association

It says strong guidance is in place to make sure appropriate care is given, and that the guidance is in the process of being strengthened.

The Local Government Association also says that the cost of residential care is generally higher than the cost of providing homecare.

In other words there is no financial incentive to force people into residential care.

'Dread'

In the tiny village of Newnham, in north Hertfordshire, 88 year-old Sheila Rosendale needs permanent care in her home alongside the green.

At the moment that's provided by her son Chris, who gave up his full-time job.

But under the government's new plans in its Personal Care Bill, Sheila would be eligible to apply for free personal care, enabling Chris to go back to work.

Even though she would prefer Chris to look after her, she recognises the government's plan would help many people.

"It's a good idea," she says. "It's much better to stay in your own home than to be parked in a nursing home.

"That I would dread."

Financial pressures

Local councils love the idea of free personal care in principle, but they don't know how they're going to pay for it.

At the moment the Department of Health plans to pay £420m, and councils are being asked to contribute £250m, to be found through efficiency savings.

However, a survey from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services warns the cost could even be higher than that. Its lowest estimate is now £1bn.

So local authorities and the Department of Health are still arguing about how to finance the policy.

Jeremy Beecham, of the Local Government Association, said it will be up to the government to pay.

"They're saying to us, make efficiency savings," she said.

"But we're already the most efficient part of the public sector, and we can't count the money twice."

Some councils are already threatening to cut other services, or, as in the case of Hampshire, to increase the council tax.

Huge demand?

Both the homecare industry and local authorities worry that the policy could stimulate huge demand.

After free homecare was introduced in Scotland, the number of claims went up by 36% within the first five years.

But the government insists that free personal care would change the lives of many elderly people in need.

Clearly the bill has many difficulties still to negotiate.

The least of those is getting it onto the statute books before the general election.



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