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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Criticism over care claim backlog
Elderly person
Some people were unfairly treated
The government has missed its deadline for recompensing people unfairly denied fully funded NHS continuing care.

The Department of Health ordered a review last year after the Health Service Ombudsman said some people had been unjustly denied financial support.

It pledged to sort out as many cases as possible by the end of March.

But Health Minister Stephen Ladyman announced on Tuesday that just 57% of cases had been resolved three months after the deadline.

The blunt fact is that the minister has failed those who have been charged wrongly for care that they should have received free of charge.
Simon Burns
Mr Ladyman told parliament that 6,713 cases had been investigated by the end of March and that 770 patients had been identified who were entitled to compensation.

However, more than 5,000 cases are still outstanding - a situation labelled as a disgrace by the Tories.

In total, the NHS expects to pay a total of over 180m when all the cases received by the end of March 2004 have been investigated.

Ann Abraham, the Health Service Ombudsman, was asked to investigate four complaints from the families of individuals who were billed for their care.

In each case, the individual had an underlying medical condition that required them to have round-the-clock care.

All were required to pay nursing home fees, despite Department of Health guidance and a 1999 court ruling stating that the costs of long term care must be met by the NHS if the needs of the patient are primarily health-related.

Misinterpretation

In her report, Ms Abraham concluded that there was evidence that the Department of Health's guidance has been misinterpreted and misapplied by some health authorities and trusts, leading to hardship and injustice for some individuals.

Following publication of the report, the Department of Health ordered strategic health authorities to investigate all possible cases of unfair treatment since 1996.

Where the case was proved, ministers promised that individuals would be recompensed for the cost of that care.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Ladyman said: "The Department requested that investigations, as far as possible, were completed by 31 March 2004.

"The number and complex nature of new cases presenting themselves during the three months from January to March 2004 posed significant challenges to meeting that deadline, but the NHS has remained committed to completing investigations as accurately and thoroughly as possible.

"At the end of March the NHS had completed 57% (6,713) of all outstanding investigations."

Mr Ladyman said this was greater than the number of cases which the NHS was aware of at the end of December 2003.

He said the NHS was committed to resolving cases as promptly as possible.

"The Department will check that those cases outstanding at the end of March have been completed as of the end of July.

"From then onwards I will expect any cases to be completed within 2 months of all the information on the case being received by the SHA."

Disgrace

Shadow Health Minister Simon Burns called the announcement "a disgrace which highlights the government's abject failure in sorting out the fiasco."

He said: "The blunt fact is that the minister has failed those who have been charged wrongly for care that they should have received free of charge.

"This has caused considerable worry and distress to many elderly people and their families.

"Equally worrying is the fact that, in the light of past experience, the new deadline of completing the remaining 43% of cases from March 2004 within the next 5 weeks seems wildly optimistic."

Sandra Gidley, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for older people, called on Mr Ladyman to accept only 57% of his salary.

She said: "Stephen Ladyman's complacency beggars belief.

"The government wholly underestimated how many cases would need to be assessed. This shows that the Department of Health has no idea of the extent of the problem.

Ms Gidley said the fact that each individual authority had reviewed cases in its area had led to potential inconsistencies across the country.

"In Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire SHA, no cases were eligible for recompense, while in other authorities up to a third of people in continuing care have been denied appropriate funding.

"Britain's elderly should receive free personal care, unrestricted by discriminatory criteria."

A spokesperson for the charity Help the Aged said: "Clearly far too many people have paid out thousands of pounds for care that they were entitled to receive free from the NHS.

"The problems with NHS continuing care are of the government's own making.

"By trying to create false distinctions between different types of care and arguing about who should pay, they have created nothing but confusion."




SEE ALSO:
Elderly wrongly charged for care
20 Feb 03  |  Health
Care funding system too complex
05 May 04  |  Health
NHS 'should cover personal care'
11 Nov 03  |  Health


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