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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December, 2004, 13:27 GMT
Tories pledge free long-term care
Elderly person
Some people have had to sell their homes to fund care
Elderly and disabled people who financed their own long-term care for three years would receive free care after that, the Tories have pledged.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, launched the Conservatives' policy on Thursday.

He said it would mean that nobody would be forced to sell their home in order to finance their care.

The pledge comes as a Health Service Ombudsman report criticises the current funding system.

Under a Conservative Government no one would be forced to sell their home to finance their long-term care.
Andrew Lansley
Campaigners have long condemned the fact that the current arrangements have forced many elderly and disabled patients to sell their own homes to pay for services.

Full NHS continuing care funding covers accommodation costs and all care needs.

But it is only available to those with "complex, intense or unpredictable" nursing needs, and who have limited personal assets.

Decisions on who qualifies for this funding vary across the country, with each strategic health authority (SHA) having its own criteria.

The Ombudsman report says many patients applying for funding for long-term care face a lengthy "hit-and-miss" process.

It calls for national minimum eligibility criteria to make sure that all those that need help receive it.

Respite care promise

Mr Lansley said the Tories would reform the current system.

He promised to set up a review into all long-term regulations on the first day of a Tory administration.

He also promised measures to boost short-term respite care available to relieve the pressure on carers.

This would enable more carers to continue supporting loved ones at home.

Mr Lansley said: "Labour has failed to address the issue of Britain's long-term care crisis.

"Since 1997, 250,000 people have sold their homes to pay care home bills, and destructive regulation within the sector unnecessarily reduces the number of places available.

"Under a Conservative Government no one would be forced to sell their home to finance their long-term care. We will also remove unnecessary regulation."

Mr Lansley said his proposals would cost a maximum of 500m a year, met from cash already allocated to the health budget by shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin as well as savings on waste in Whitehall.

But he said the policy could produce savings by encouraging more people to take out insurance to cover the cost of their first three years in a home and removing perverse incentives for the elderly to dispose of their assets.

Under current arrangements, anyone with assets worth more than 20,000 - including the value of property in the case of home-owners - is required to pay for their own care.

Insurance was likely to become more affordable as there would not be the current uncertainty over how many years it may be required to cover, Mr Lansley said.

The Health Service Ombudsman's report is based on evidence gathered from almost 4,000 complaints received since a previous report on the subject in February 2003.

The Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, said: "From the patient's point of view, applying for funding for long-term care has been a lengthy hit-and-miss process.

"My main concern is for the future. I want to be assured that no-one has been wrongfully denied NHS funding for their long-term care and that the lessons learned from the current review of cases are used to make sure that open and fair procedures are put in place across the country."

Progress made

Health Minister Stephen Ladyman said the government had committed to developing new eligibility criteria.

He added that good progress had been made in reviewing cases where people had been wrongly denied funding, and all cases should have been resolved by January.

He accused the Tories of "rehashing old ideas that will benefit the wealthy few at the expense of the many and which won't work."

"Tory proposals for a wholesale dismantling of care standards would instead leave the vulnerable at the mercy of second-rate providers."

Sandra Gidley, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Older People, said: "The government has wholly underestimated the extent of the problem, with inconsistencies apparent across the country.

"With some people eligible for funding but others denied it, the system is in a real mess.

"The best way to sort it out is to offer free personal care for all older people."

Care funding system too complex
05 May 04 |  Health

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