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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 19:48 GMT
Elderly care to be made 'clearer'
Elderly lady
There is still confusion over which services councils must provide free
Laws governing free personal care for the elderly look set to be changed to end the "postcode lottery" in services being provided by councils.

Some councils, who claim guidance on the issue is ambiguous, have been criticised for charging elderly clients for food preparation.

Now Deputy Health Minister Lewis MacDonald has given backing to proposed changes to make legislation clearer.

He also stressed that people should not be charged for food preparation.

But he admitted to the Scottish Parliament's health committee that the policy had been open to "some interpretation".

I've indicated that I'm minded to the view that on assistance with the preparation of food, a statutory route is most probably the right one to take
Lewis MacDonald
Deputy Health Minister

The committee was taking evidence on a report commissioned by the executive into the policy, which last week revealed that elderly people are having to wait for assistance in most local authority areas.

Only five councils did not report anyone waiting for either free personal care services or payments.

Edinburgh City Council will have to pay back 2m after wrongly charging the elderly for help preparing meals that should have been free.

Clackmannanshire Council is also considering reimbursing elderly people charges worth 300,000.

An implementation group will look into both statutory and non-statutory options for dealing with the issue, according to the deputy minister.

'Confusion remains'

"I've indicated that I'm minded to the view that on assistance with the preparation of food, a statutory route is most probably the right one to take," said Mr MacDonald.

SNP health spokeswoman Shona Robison questioned why it had taken so long for the executive to clarify the issue.

"We've had four sets of guidance and clearly still confusion remains," she said.

"What concerns me is that after all that period, it's only now that we're talking about going down the statutory route."

A spokesman for local council body Cosla said free personal care had been an overwhelming success.

"Cosla has always called for clarity in relation to food preparation and we fully endorse what the minister has said today," he added.

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