Panorama has uncovered the scandal of thousands of families in England and Wales being forced to sell their family home to pay for long-term medical care in a nursing home of a sick relative - care that should, legally, have been paid for by the NHS.
Pamela Coughlan's experiences became a test case
Below is a selection of your comments.
I watched with interest your programme on care home fees. I am a manager of a 75-bed home and agreed with all of your comments. Many of my patients have extremely high needs but they are assessed as not requiring NHS funding. The whole system is rotten from top down. Another hidden tax on people who are too ill to argue.
Steve Rowley, Ashford, Kent
This programme did a marvellous job of bringing to light the total inequality of provision for the elderly in Britain. A government review of the whole long-term care system is urgently required - with the legality of the current situation being the first priority.
Diane Morgan, Aberdeen
The privatisation-by-stealth of long-term elderly care is scandalous. For the relatives and carers of the elderly to have to sell their homes in order to pay for what should be available free on the NHS, and that they have paid for in the form of National Insurance all their lives, is disgusting.
Andrew Walton, Leicester
Well done Panorama... excellent programme. Sickening exposure of a Labour government who champion the NHS while undermining us all with a system of us having to pay for our illness, dotage and deterioration in old age.
The smug and patronising minister left us all in no doubt that they see this as the way forward and are prepared to ignore the law. The elderly have a vote and have paid for the NHS services over their lifetime. They have a very basic right to benefit from the legally established right to funding for their care. Thank goodness for the media such as Panorama. Don't let it go - keep after them on this one.
G Bird, Suffolk
Yes, I believe people should have to sell their homes to pay for long-term nursing care, with a minimum value threshold. It should not be the burden of everyone to pay for care while the property goes to enrich the rest of the family. Taxes would be considerably lower if means-tested nursing care was introduced. The German model should be introduced here, where the family are expected to pay for care instead of the state.
Christine Lewis, Arundel, West Sussex
I have been a GP for over 22 years and have become increasingly concerned in recent years in how people are misled by governments (of both political persuasions) and their local agencies. I think it is obvious to all right-minded people that the patients shown in the progamme tonight require medical and nursing care and that these are their predominant needs.
It is inexcusable to expect patients to have to sell their homes to fund their long-term care while, at the same time, the politicians continue to say that healthcare needs should be free to all.
Stephen Mort, Buckinghamshire
Excellent and informative programme. Fortunately none of my family are in this predicament at present but when the time comes I will be armed with information. I had never heard of the Coughlan rule before. This government is just a gang of robbers. Today I will be ringing my friends who do have relatives in homes to check their positions. Thank you for this very useful information. Keep up the good work.
M Taylor, Bolton
My mother and father paid into the NHS all their lives. My mother is now bedridden and in a nursing home paid for by the sale of her house. There will be little or nothing left of her lifetime's savings to pass onto her grandchildren.
Furthermore, she is bedriddden because of NHS mistakes in hospital and inferior care. This makes it doubly insulting and upsetting. It is very, very unfair.This has happened to my mother and my mother-in-law, so we have had to suffer twice!! The NHS and this government should acknowledge this failure and do something about it soon.
Jeni Molyneux, Worcester
I've nursed my husband for nine years following a massive stroke. He is unable to speak and has serious mobility problems. Despite this, I've kept a roof over our heads and put two children through university by running my own business. I am now about to retire. I can no longer care for my husband's needs and the thought of losing the house I've worked so hard to keep is anathema. I appreciate all of the ammunition you've provided me - no one will take my house away from me.
Leslie Mangham, Berkshire
I felt that your programme was very one-sided. I have just put my mother's house on the market to pay for her care in a nursing home. She is 93 and frail and has decided to enter the home herself. None of the family have any objections to selling her home, including mother, as we believe that this is what you work and save for.
The patients' relatives in your programme were really complaining that they were going to lose their inheritance. If there is anything left of the house proceeds when the funding is no longer required then it will be ours, but should the proceeds run out then the social services will take over the cost.
John Stych, UK
My mother-in-law was diagnosed with vascular dementia in December 2004. She was admitted to Winchester Hospital after a fall and stayed for a month, during which time she became very ill as the hospital failed to ensure that she ate. We moved her to a nursing home where, initially she improved as her basic needs were better met, but her dementia worsened and after a fall she died in November 2005.
We are left with a bill for around £30,000 for her care during this period. I feel very guilty. I got her out of hospital initially as their lack of basic care was starving her, but by doing so I fell into a trap whereby we had to fund her care by putting a charge on her house.
She would have been horrified if she had known we had done this, as she was so proud that she had a house to give to her children. The whole process has left us deeply shocked and upset.
Sarah Weare, Hampshire
Having just watched the programme I am horrified and upset by the NHS in our country. I work for Age Concern, providing advice and information to older people and carers, and time after time this is a question families ask me about. I see the enormous amount of stress this puts families under, the effect it has on marriages and relationships of the carers and their loved ones. The labour government should be ashamed and I hope after broadcasting this programme tonight, new changes are brought in. I'm shocked. Excellent programme - well done for highlighting such an important subject.
Concerned tax payer, Preston Lancashire
As a MS sufferer I hope when I need care I will not have to sell my home to pay for help. It is a frightening position to be in.
Mrs B Taylor, Warrington Cheshire
My friends mother has Alzheimer's and requires 24-hour care and the family where forced to sell the house immediately. I am shocked and horrified. I watched most of your programme with my jaw dropped. This should be raised with the prime minister in the House of Commons. I would love to hear his response.
Thomas Smart, Glasgow
I am absolutely appalled at the way in which people have been forced to sell off their homes to provide for their own care in times of very obvious need. I was under the impression that this is what taxes were paid for. I personally find it very hard to distinguish social care from health care. I wonder how much money was paid to the person(s) who came up with this farce. I would love to know what can be done to change this sad state of affairs.
Mr Paul White, Oxted
This programme has made me really angry. Why shouldn't those who can afford it pay for the care that they need? Children have no automatic right to an inheritance and if the money can be used to ease the pressure on the National Health Service then it should be.
If all care is provided free by the NHS then something else will have to be cut. Do those relatives who think they have more right to their parents' money than their parents themselves, have any suggestions as to what should be cut - paediatrics perhaps? Or cancer care?
These people are being very selfish and I for one have absolutely no sympathy for people who would rather have their parents money in their pocket than see it used to keep them in comfort for their remaining years.
My uncle, who has suffered a stroke leaving him bedridden, is peg fed, catheterised and colostomised, and he is currently treated at home. At no time have I seen any assessment undertaken in accordance with he Coughlan criteria. Furthermore, following his being re-admitted for insertion of a peg tube, I was recently told by the NHS Trust that he was safer at home due to the possible risk of him being infected while in hospital.
The Trust was anxious to free up his bed. Surely, the risk from MRSA would apply to whoever occupied that bed? I have added your site to favourites and will use the Coughlan argument to seek full funding for his care.
Sharon Morris, Lancs
Great programme. Am I right in thinking that a solution to the injustice would be to make a gift of one's home to one's children and then prove via a means test that one needs funded social care?
Richard Fildes, Cheshire
I am eldest of three married daughters. Dad is a widower aged 75 and is still active in community. He has chosen to sell his bungalow now and live in a spare room in my youngest sister's home so that this situation does not happen to him. He is a volunteer financial advisor to local Alzheimer's Society branch and Wombwell Partnership, so he has seen this in operation. This way, he can invest his money and live off it gradually and get the benefit of his property himself.
Lynn Aston, Barnsley, Yorkshire
Another example of the media in this country (and in particular the BBC) choosing to engage in a bit of NHS-bashing, without fully explaining and examining the issues in detail. I'm sure everyone would like to see free top quality primary, secondary and continuing healthcare for all, but the bottom line is we can't afford it.
I think it is disgusting! If you are a working person paying National Insurance and taxes, we have no free dental or eye care. Hospital waiting lists are so long you need to take out private health care to get seen in a sufficient time and now if you are sick you have to sell your home! Should we stop paying our taxes if we receive nothing in return?
Kristina Baverstock, Poole Dorset
I am one of the few who stuck with Labour at the recent Dunfermline election. Perhaps I was wrong to do so. This programme horrified me and the smug complacency of the government's health spokesman made me realise that they have the same failing that doomed the Tories, who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
W Nesbit, Dunfermline, Fife
My Grandma has vascular dementia. She is in a home and has part of the cost of the home funded by the NHS - the rest has to be paid for by her. To fund this we rented out her bungalow to the local government. They have housed a 19-year-old single mother and her child in the house.
How can it be right that an 86-year-old woman, who worked most of her life and paid taxes, has to pay for her healthcare while a 19-year-old girl, who has never worked, gets a house paid for her by the government simply because she can't use contraception? Its madness.
I wonder how many of these affected people have spent a productive, largely healthy, life paying national insurance only to be denied the "payout" when they need it most?
My partner's mother is currently in hospital due to a bronchial infection. During her time in hospital she caught a gastric infection, which swept throughout the ward. She now has no bladder or bowel control and is in constant pain. The hospital is beginning to suggest that they have done all they can for her and perhaps she should consider moving into a care home, rather than her own home. It seems worryingly similar to the beginning of one your featured cases.
Mark Watson, Hampshire
My mother has been turned down by the West Midland SHA on appeal although her condition has a similar care need to Mrs Coughlan. Despite rheumatoid arthritis, her condition was made worse by poor treatment during an operation that went wrong and has left her unable to be self-caring as she was before the operation. Even that doesn't count towards continuing NHS care.
Ian Murray, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire
I've just been physically sick after watching this programme because it has made me so angry. At the age of 27 I've experienced four members of my family die suddenly of heart attack, stroke and brain haemorrhage. Having watched this programme I now feel lucky that this is the case. Maybe by the time I need continuing care, due to old age or another condition, the legal situation surrounding euthanasia will have been clarified and my kids will be able to have me put down rather than sell any family heirlooms or property.
Iain Woodcock, Bristol
Both of my parents have worked since the age of 14 and paid their stamp for over 60 years. I find it quite disgusting that the NHS can demand this back - after all, they have worked and paid for their right to a good NHS system to look after them. The NHS are robbing old people of their money and they should be sued by the families.
Sarah Pearce, Oxford
No they should not be forced to sell their houses for nursing care. My father had dementia and was continually climbing out of my parents' flat, one storey up. So they sold their flat and moved into sheltered council property. The rent used up the money from the sale of the house. When dad needed full time care last year, there was no money left. However, mum still had to pay for his care. He died on the 24 July last year aged 87.
Mum was left with a £500 care bill and she was £600 short of the funeral bill. Luckily a charity paid the funeral shortfall. She is still paying the care bill at £50 a month. She is 86 and on pension credit. How can this be fair? She worries about dying and still owing the money. Plus she is fighting us against going into a nursing home herself, even though she is crippled with arthritis and needs attention. One of the main reason she won't go is that she is worried that we will have to pay for her.
Lynne Hammond, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset
My parents are currently in a residential home because my mother, 76, has Alzheimer's disease and my father, 88, was too frail to continue looking after her. Their one true asset, our family home, is now for sale to pay for both their residential fees.
My mother is totally dependent on the staff as her condition has worsened to the point now where she is unable to feed herself, move unaided or to do anything without total care. My father continues to stay with her, as he refused to "leave her alone in the home" as he put it. I accept that we should pay the social care for him but not both of my parents.
John Cable, Lutterworth
My mother was recently very poorly after some time in intensive care. The NHS's first question was did my mother own her house. They then said that the best way to treat her was to move her to a home. We felt this was a good solution, but had not realised that the NHS would ask my mum to sign the house over to them.
Luckily my uncle was at hand and he was wise to this scheme and although my mum was in a home for three days or so, we were able to move her to her home. She now has social care, which she has to pay for from the small benefit she receives. If we did not help her out she would not have enough money for heating bills. After seeing your programme it appals me how the NHS is working.JM, Bradford
One of the most concerning and moving programmes that I have ever seen on TV. What an uncivilised society we have become. People with a lifetime of service and of paying taxes being forced to sell their family homes that justice demands they should be able to leave to their children.
When the country can't even look after its own elderly people, why are we paying a single penny to the EU institutions, which are in any case notorious for squandering much of what they are given?
Chris Gillibrand, Belgium (UK citizen)
This again exposes the gap between what Tony Blair claimed he believed before his elections, and what he knew he was going to do afterwards. Health, education, care, pensions - not one of his pre-election promises has been kept. And this programme exposed that the whole NHS swindle can only happen because, at the top, the Blair government allows it to. They simply don't care about their broken promises. After all, it won't happen to them.
George Edwards, Harrogate
This is a very biased programme. It was due to bed-blockers like this Coughlan woman that prevented my mother from going into rehab. This woman should be in a care home, NOT a rehab centre which is intended for people who need rehabilitation. You also played down the fact that when the available assets drop below a set limit, health care is free. It's just another way that authority is stealing what is not theirs to support the NHS. It is disgusting and should not be allowed.
Mr Keith Tunnicliffe, Newcastle upon Tyne
What we have seen on Panorama tonight is a national scandal which needs looking into most urgently. The National Health Service should not be allowed to force patients to sell their homes to fund long-term medical care. Most people pay taxes towards the NHS all their working life and when they need care, they find themselves having to sell their homes to pay for it.
This is totally wrong and is very distressing as we have seen for the families concerned. The last thing people need when their loved ones fall ill is this added worry which in itself is a very distressing time for all. A very good and eye-opening programme into what is going on in the NHS to provide the care which many people think, it appears quite wrongly, is free when most needed.
Steve Fuller, East Sussex
I felt quite angry while watching tonight's programme. I felt so sad for those people who had to sell their parents homes to fund the care which should be paid for by the NHS. All these people that pay taxes for so many years and end up paying it all back for their own care while they wait to die, is just sickening and its terrifying to think I could be faced with the same prospect when my parents become old and frail. What has happened in this life? It's so scary.
Mrs Greenwood, Bedford, Bedfordshire
I thought that the health minister looked very shifty when he was being interviewed. He is aware, I'm sure, that this is privatisation by the back door. To say that those with terminal illnesses, or with the kind of severe disabilities we saw on the programme, mainly required social care is a nonsense!!
Hilary Williams, Brecon, Wales
I am so incensed by this evening's programme that I will be writing to the health secretary and the prime minister. This is a deplorable way that people are being treated by the NHS.
Michael Paddington, Windsor
The term "National INSURANCE" is a fraud unless benefits are provided when required. A private insurer would not be permitted to behave the way this government does. The government and the NHS should be prosecuted and sued.
Tom Boyden, Purley
Once again, under this government, the only winners are the legal profession. What you should have investigated is the fees that nursing homes charge. The home my mother was in charged us twice the cost they charged the social services.
Ben G, North Wilts
This is a true "swindle". It is truly insulting and inappropriate that people who pay such high taxes are insulted in their hour of need. The minister was unapologetic and that is most worrying. The government must admit their sham or clarify the system. This is truly worrying. Why will people ever save if government wants to loot them when they need money?
Ganesh, London and UK
New Labour, New Weasels.
Kay Tie, UK
I am outraged, not by the NHS, but by the emotive nonsense in this programme. What the producers of this programme don't seem to realise is that if the people concerned don't sell their homes, then we will all need to pay higher taxes.
If you want to stop the NHS requiring people to finance their own long-term care as much as possible, then you are in favour of a retrogressive tax from the poor to the rich. There are tremendous pressures on the NHS and there will be even greater pressures in the future with medical inflation exceeding normal inflation and with shortages of medical staff, without this mollycoddling of wealthy people added to the burden.
This behaviour of selling homes to pay for care in the NHS is disgraceful. The individual has paid into the NHS for years and this fact should determine who should pay for this care.
James Archer, Glasgow Scotland
Like many of the people on the programme, I have sold my mother's home in order to pay for her care in a secure nursing home. She is now unable to walk, blind in one eye, is doubly incontinent and has severe dementia. She is unable to remember anything, cannot communicate and is fully dependant on her carers. Care home fees are about £1,800 per month. I believe the NHS should pay, but she has been turned down for full funding.
Alan Lusher, Norwich
Surely there is a responsibility of families to look after their loved ones. I thought the way these children treated their parents was humiliating. I did not have any sympathy and if people can pay for their care, then they should.
A lady was shown who had been neglected in a care home. Why had the daughter not realised before the bed sores got to such a dangerous state? There is also a housing shortage in this country. If houses are empty they should be made available to others. Why are we all after what we can get for ourselves? Why is property and money the main focus? It is the care of an aging population that is important.
Kerry Webster, Cardiff
Frankly, I am alarmed by this programme. The Disability Discrimination Act in itself surely should cover this. No school child or other disabled person should be discriminated against, but the fact is that they are. Double standards at work here! What on earth is going on here.
It seems that your program cannot differentiate between nursing care and social care. Feeding and clothing is social care but you give the impression that this is nursing care. If the patient is never to return home why should it be left empty, the relatives could always care for the patient at home with the support of the community care team if the inheritance is so important to them.
Chris Morris, Earl Shilton, England
I was told my mother had to pay for her stay in a private home, after a 3 month stay in hospital. She was suffering from lung disease and was on oxygen permanently.
House was put on the market, but my mother died before it was sold.
We paid approx £1000 for one months stay in the home.
Sam Burnside, Carrickfergus, Co Antrim
I recently had to go into my grandmothers house and clear her belongings - she's in a nursing home with Alzheimer's and may live for another 10 years at £350 per week - she bought her house after my grandfather died, she will probably never be back in the house but we still have to sell it to pay for her care, we feel very angry that she worked all her life as did my grandfather, they both gave a lot to society and are getting nothing back, the care home is wonderful but at the price that's what you'd expect
Lisa Cochrane, Northern Ireland
Thank you Panorama Team for highlighting the disgraceful treatment of the most vunerable. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on the programme and on us who put ourselves on the programme. To you who are supportive I thank you, those who feel I may be of help in their fight contact Panorama they will pass on my details. To those who think I fought for my own benefit, think on, my aunt was not wealthy, she worked from the age of 14 until retirement, her husband equally worked until his death. She was one of 13 children. My aunt and uncle lived in council accomodation in London and it was when he died she managed to buy her flat with the monies from his pension and their joint savings. Later she moved to a small terraced house to be closer to family. All her savings were invested in that property, she never had holidays, didn't spend a fortune on clothes, her social life consisted of belonging to an OAP club or spending time with her family. I fought because someone needed to speak out against a system that discriminates against people because of their age and vulnerability. A system that changes to suit the decision makers. Money is not the issue here, what is, is where will it stop? Who's next on the "big saving list". It may be one of you, I sincerely hope not, but if it is I hope you have someone who loves you enough to fight for you when you cannot.
Kate Meager, South Benfleet, UK
I am with John Stych, Christine Lewis, Paula of Peterborough, Gerard of London, Kerry Webster and Chris Morris, who disagreed with the programme's argument. At 75, if I find myself in need of permanent nursing care my present accommodation will no longer be "my home", and I don't see why the value it represents shouldn't be used to help pay for the cost of my needs. If my sons don't inherit anything they will be in no worse case than I was. "To each according to his needs, from each according to his capabilities" is a socialist principle with which I agree. The families on your programme were obviously disappointed at not getting the goodies they were looking forward to. "Goodbye, Home?" Yes, they call it growing up.
Raymond Bowen, Colchester, UK