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Political editor Brian Taylor
"Ministers are asking if this is the best use of 110m a year"
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Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 13:32 GMT
MSPs support free care call
Man being pushed in a wheelchair
Medical care costs are met, personal care is not
A Scottish Parliament committee has throwing its weight behind a call for the government to fund personal care costs for all elderly people in long-stay nursing homes.

In a report released on Tuesday, MSPs on the health committee want ministers to implement in full the findings of the Sutherland Report.

The results of a UK-wide inquiry by Edinburgh University principal Sir Stewart Sutherland, published in March 1999, recommended that personal help should be funded.

This is estimated at 110m a year in Scotland.

If Sutherland was implemented in full it would lift this shadow of fear from every single older person in this country and we think this is a price worth paying

Linda Dunion, Age Concern Scotland
At present, only medical care costs are paid. Personal care, such as payments for help with bathing, are not met.

Critics say this is an unreal distinction, citing the difficulty of deciding whether a bath given to an elderly person, or someone with a skin condition, is for "medical" or "social" reasons.

When Sir Stewart released his findings, the UK Government agreed to pay for nursing care, but said no to personal care.

Devolution divide

The Scottish Executive, which runs health as a devolved power, took the same position.

But First Minister Henry McLeish has said he is prepared for ministers to look again at the situation.

Devolution could mean in theory that people in Scotland would receive personal care costs, while those in other parts of the UK did not.

Susan Deacon
Stewart Sutherland: Influential report
However, cost concerns mean that ministers may have to implement the change over several years.

Committee convener Margaret Smith said: "Throughout our 10-month inquiry, the overwhelming message we received from stakeholders in our community was that personal care services should be free at the point of use.

"While we recognise that such a commitment could have an effect on other aspects of community care spending, we received strong indications that this is an important issue of principle for the people of Scotland.

"We remain persuaded by the substantial body of evidence presented to us that there should be no charge for services assessed as being required to meet the personal care needs of an individual."

Single body

The committee also calls on the Scottish Executive to raise NHS and local authority spending levels on community care.

It recommends that a single body be given the role for budgeting, planning and commissioning of services.

The report has been given a guarded welcome by the executive which says it will examine the recommendations in detail.

A spokesman said that community care was already a policy and spending priority for the executive, citing a 100m package of improvements announced by Health Minister Susan Deacon in October.

"We are pleased that community care, an important and sometimes complex area, is now high on the political agenda," he said.

Costs fear

Linda Dunion, assistant director of Age Concern Scotland, welcomed the committee's findings.

She said: "It is a means-tested system but the reality we find is that older people who are assessed as needing care very often refuse the services because they are frightened of the costs.

"Even when people have savings they are very reluctant to spend them because they need to keep them as they see it to pay for their care if they become very frail and have to go into a residential setting.

"If Sutherland was implemented in full it would lift this shadow of fear from every single older person in this country and we think this is a price worth paying."

An internal inquiry has been launched after the health committee's report was leaked to BBC Scotland.

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See also:

19 Nov 00 | Scotland
Report backs free OAP care
06 Oct 00 | Scotland
Elderly care plans under fire
01 Oct 00 | Scotland
100m elderly care plan
28 Sep 00 | Scotland
Ministers reject care funding
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