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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 16:43 GMT
The battle for elderly care
By Nicky Bolster
Producer, BBC One's Your NHS: For Better or Worse

Free long-term care for the elderly was voted the top NHS priority by viewers in 2002. This already exists in Scotland. Two years on, we follow the conflict between one couple in England who feel the state should provide, and an NHS that does not have sufficient resources.

Arthur and Gwen Brett in hospital
The NHS does not have enough funding to pay for Gwen's care
Gwen Brett had a severe stroke in October last year and was rushed into hospital.

That was bad enough for her husband Arthur, 77.

It was devastating for him that his wife of 52 years could no longer speak or even eat.

Doctors at the Ipswich Hospital did their best to help 85-year-old Gwen recover.

However, 10 weeks ago they declared they had done all they could to help her and that she needed to go into a nursing home.

I thought as we'd paid an awful lot of National Insurance, we'd be well cared for
Arthur Brett
She is still being fed through a tube in her stomach and cannot do anything for herself.

It was a huge shock for Arthur to discover that, despite the fact that his wife is now incapable of living independently, the NHS is not able to continue looking after her.

"I thought as we'd paid an awful lot of National Insurance, we'd be well cared for," he told the BBC's Your NHS programme.

Because Gwen's savings amount to more than 19,500 she will have to pay most of her nursing home fees.

The home nearest to where Arthur lives, in Ipswich, charges 637 a week.

Gwen's state pension and other benefits are expected to cover 183 of this, so Arthur will have to fork out the remaining 454.

'No, no, no'

Arthur was horrified to hear this and wants Gwen to stay in hospital.

Dr Trepte
He doesn't appreciate that by doing this he is preventing somebody else from receiving emergency care
Dr Trepte
"I'm going to be like some more people I know who said 'No, no, no' and they're still there, so why shouldn't I say 'No, no, no'?

Meanwhile his stance is causing problems at the hospital, because Gwen should have left 10 weeks ago and is now bed-blocking.

"Mr Brett is pretty adamant that he's not paying for his wife's nursing home care, and that leaves us in an almost impossible situation," said consultant Dr Nicola Trepte, who works on the geriatric ward where Gwen is currently being cared for.

"I can see where he is coming from and I am sure that he doesn't appreciate that by doing this he is preventing somebody else from receiving emergency care.

"At any time in this hospital we have a whole medical ward that is not being used for the purpose it is meant for."

Holidays sacrificed

Old photograph of Arthur and Gwen Brett
Arthur and Gwen Brett have been married for 52 years
The NHS does not have enough funding to pay for the care of patients like Gwen, whose condition is now medically stable.

"People are expecting cradle-to-grave looking after, but that just isn't feasible," says Dr Trepte.

"If we are going to expect that sort of care for free, people are going to have to pay an awful lot more National Insurance contributions to fund it properly."

If the couple had not had any savings, Gwen's nursing home care would have been funded by Social Services.

"If the people haven't got money they don't pay", said Arthur.

"This is the thing that annoys me and that would annoy you the same if you were in the same position as I am.

"I wished really we'd have spent a lot more money as we went along. We could have had a lot more holidays."


Your NHS: For Better or Worse was broadcast at 21:00 GMT on Wednesday, 24 March, 2004. You can watch it again on the website.




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