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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 01:46 GMT
NHS faces 180m overcharging bill
By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Elderly person
Access to care has varied widely around the country
The NHS has been hit by a 180m compensation bill after incorrectly charging people for nursing care.

Patients charged for long-term nursing and social care from 1996 to 2004 have been able to have their cases reviewed if they feel they were overcharged.

This has led to over 13,000 claims and 2,000 pay-outs, costing 180m.

The claims relate to the way different health authorities charged for care needed because of illness, disability and continuing NHS treatment.

This "continuing care" used to be effectively classed as social care and as such was means-tested.

The whole issue of continuing care has been a terrible mess
Mervyn Kohler, of Help the Aged

But a legal challenge in the 1990s led to health bosses being told to fund care packages where the primary need was health, rather than just basic personal care such as helping dressing and washing.

However, the rules were interpreted differently across the country.

This proved particularly controversial and stories emerged of patients having to sell their homes to fund care - hence the high figure for the pay-outs.

The Health Ombudsman ruled in 2003 that many patients had been incorrectly charged and this prompted the government to allow patients to claim back refunds and compensation.

Applications had to be submitted to primary care trusts by November last year for the pay-outs, which can take into account distress.

So far 12,000 of the 13,300 cases have been reviewed with the outstanding claims expected to have been completed by March.

Guidelines have subsequently been issued to try to standardise procedures from area to area but campaigners still complain about a "postcode lottery" in continuing care.

Eligible

About 40,000 people currently received funded continuing care packages, even though experts estimate about 100,000 people should qualify.

Mervyn Kohler, of Help the Aged, said: "The whole issue of continuing care has been a terrible mess. So it is pleasing to see that people are getting money back for this.

"But it doesn't hide the fact that there are still many inconsistencies in practices."

And a spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Society added: "The charging for care caused a lot of heartache. People had to sell their homes and go into debt.

"And it is still worth remembering that many thousands of people with Alzheimer's still don't get care as they are not deemed eligible."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "This retrospective review process has brought about much greater understanding and improved process within the NHS."



SEE ALSO
National rules for funding care
26 Jun 07 |  Health
Social care hit by NHS deficits
15 Mar 07 |  Health

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