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Thursday, 27 July, 2000, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Coughing up for care
Some 40,000 people a year sell up to pay nursing home bills
The government has rejected calls to provide free residential care for the elderly. It means some patients will still have to sell their homes to foot care bills. BBC News Online's Megan Lane looks at one such case.

When Ivy Savage went into a Cornwall nursing home last year, she was suffering from dementia, double incontinence and memory loss.

The 77-year-old had been diagnosed with Lewi Body disease, a form of Alzheimer's, and required 24-hour care.

Elderly in the UK
500,000 pay for personal care
150,000 nursing home beds
43,000 people in homes pay for nursing care
About 40,000 a year sell their houses to pay bills
Nursing homes charge 360 a week on average
At-home carers charge about 10 an hour, depending on the local authority
One in three women and one in five men will need care in old age
"By the time she went into care, she couldn't even work the microwave, was having difficulty getting her gas fire on, and sometimes didn't know what time of the day it was," says her sister, Lucy Hutchinson.

"She would turn up, on a blazing hot summer's day, dressed in all her winter clothes. She wasn't with it at all."

Because elderly patients in nursing homes are means-tested, Miss Savage, a retired sub-Post Office clerk, first had to dip into her savings to pay for her care.

Last December, her family reluctantly had to put her ex-council house in Plymouth on the market - it sold for just under 44,000. The fact Miss Savage, and not the state, has to foot the bill, still rankles with her relatives.

Miss Savage is now in a home that specialises in providing round-the-clock care for patients with dementia. The weekly bill is 325, or 16,900 a year.

The cost of residential care for the elderly is split into two categories - nursing care, and bed and board.

Under the NHS overhaul, the nursing component - on average, between 70 to 100 a week - will be free. But the government rejected calls to abolish the other care charges.

"The politicians think nursing is just changing bandages," Mrs Hutchinson says. "Yet the staff have to help Ivy dress, remind her to come to the dining room and clean urine off the floor.

"[The government] looks after the people who have never saved a bean in their lives, but people like my sister, who scrimped and saved to buy her own house, are penalised."

Ivy Savage's bills
May 99: 310 for respite care
June 99 to Jan 00: 7155 for residential home
10 Jan to 31 July: 9,750 for 24-hour residential care
Under current rules, elderly people with more than 16,000 in assets and savings pay full costs, and those with between 10,000 and 16,000 contribute on a sliding scale.

The new proposal raises the upper asset threshold to 18,000 from April 2001, and allows a three-month gap before the means test takes the value of your house into account.

"The state should look after people like my sister," says Mrs Hutchinson. "She's not getting it for nothing - she never drew a pension in her life, and paid into the NHS from the day it started.

"When Ivy first went into the home, she could still sign the cheques. She said: 'I didn't save all my life, and buy my own house, to pay for this'."

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See also:

19 Jul 00 | NHS reform
Elderly to be prioritised in reforms
16 Jul 99 | Health
What is long-term care?
16 Jul 99 | Health
Ruling clouds care issue
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