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Page last updated at 23:22 GMT, Sunday, 5 March 2006

The National Homes Swindle

Pamela Coughlan
Pamela Coughlan won a landmark case against the NHS in 1999.

Panorama uncovers the scandal of thousands of families in England and Wales being forced to sell their family home to pay for long-term care in a nursing home of a sick relative - care that should, legally, have been paid for by the NHS.

A test case has determined when the NHS should pay for care, but in practice, the programme reveals, this judgement is being widely disregarded.

A lawyer involved in that case tells Panorama: "It's dishonest and it's quite astonishing that it's gone on for so long." The programme reports that the NHS, in many cases, is behaving unlawfully, and homes are being sold that should not be.

The picture that emerges is that some relatives, already distressed by the severe illness of someone close to them, are not being properly informed about their rights by the NHS.

"I think it's unjust," says a Liverpool man, a former painter and decorator, paralysed, and paying 27,000 a year for his own care in a residential home, having never even been advised the possibility of free care existed.

The present government criticised the Conservatives in 1997 for forcing 40,000 pensioners a year to sell their homes. Prime Minister Tony Blair said he did not want children "brought up in a country where the only way pensioners can get long term care is by selling their home."

Commenting on the situation now, David Hinchliffe the former chair of the Commons Select Committee on Health says, "It's scandalous... it leaves you with a very bitter taste."

Panorama: The National Homes Swindle was on BBC One on Sunday 5 March 2006.

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