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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March, 2005, 14:25 GMT
Warning over costs of free care
Pensioner watching television
Free elderly care has been a flagship policy
The cost of free personal care for the elderly could be higher than originally estimated, a report has warned.

The Scottish Parliament's audit committee has said a lack of monitoring in some areas means the true price of the policy could not be measured.

The committee has called on the health department to conduct an urgent review of the full cost.

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman stated support for free care and said the report would be carefully considered.

The provision of free home care for older people was a flagship policy of the first Scottish Executive.

The payment of 145 a week for feeding, dressing and washing support was estimated to cost 125m a year to deliver, depending on the take-up.

The health department still cannot tell us how much it has cost
Brian Monteith
Audit committee convener

The report found that a number of councils provided no information on cost to the health department, while data from others was incomplete or sporadic.

The position was branded "unacceptable" by committee members.

They called for the department to review the cost of the policy to ensure future cost projections were based on accurate information.

Convener Brian Monteith said: "The executive and the parliament have decided that there should be free care for the elderly, therefore it is vital that the delivery of free personal care to older people in Scotland is properly funded and that resources are targeted so that individual needs are met.

"It is now three years since the policy was introduced and the health department still cannot tell us how much it has cost."

Budget pledge

The committee said the health department had failed to monitor the actual costs of the free personal care policy following implementation.

And it warned that responsibilities between social work, councils and the NHS were fragmented, proving "unhelpful" for users and providers.

The executive spokeswoman said: "We welcome this report and will carefully consider the recommendations and respond in due course.

"We remain committed to delivering free personal and nursing care and will ensure that we continue to budget for this policy."

The executive blamed shortcomings in data collection by local authorities.

'Huge concern'

Research into the effectiveness and costing of the free care policy, including a revised estimate of cost, is due to be complete by summer 2006.

The SNP described the report's findings as a "huge concern for everyone concerned".

The party's health spokeswoman Shona Robison said: "In order to ensure that commitments to provide this vital service continue to be met we need to know exactly how much services cost across the country, but the Executive are failing in this duty.

"By neglecting to watch over the costs they are playing a dangerous game.

"Scotland's elderly citizens deserve the best possible care across the country.

"By failing to manage the situation properly this Executive are once again failing Scotland's pensioners."



SEE ALSO:
Ministers deny care sums 'wrong'
16 Feb 05 |  Scotland
Free elderly care 'over budget'
15 Feb 05 |  Scotland
Factcard offers elderly insight
31 Jan 05 |  Scotland


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