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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 15:13 GMT
Minister backs costly care policy
elderly woman
More than 70,000 older people receive free personal care

Scotland's health secretary remains committed to free personal care for the elderly, despite a report which said it faced an uncertain financial future.

Nicola Sturgeon said it was a "good policy", but she added that future costs would determine decision making.

Spending watchdog Audit Scotland revealed on Friday that there was a funding shortfall of up to 63m.

It also said the policy, introduced in 2002, differed greatly from council to council.

Local authorities said the report showed they were right to press for reform of the free personal care legislation.

Cosla spokesman Ronnie McColl said: "We have long argued that the legislation is unclear in terms of councils' entitlement to charge residents for assisting with the preparation of food."

Audit Scotland reported that the free personal and nursing care scheme needed to be better planned, managed and funded.

Ms Sturgeon said talks would be held with local authorities with an aim to improve the legislation.

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She added: "We have to find out what the cost for the future is and take decisions based on that.

"But I am saying to you very clearly the new government is committed to this policy. It is a good policy and we will take the action necessary to make sure that it lasts for the long-term."

About 72,000 older people receive personal care services free of charge.

Audit Scotland said the annual funding gap of up to 63m was expected to worsen.

It said initial cost estimates were difficult to make because of limited information, but monitoring had also been limited and long-term cost estimates had not been made by the government since 2001.

Robert Black
It is well documented that Scotland has a growing older population and demand for free personal care will grow
Robert Black

It added that the government and councils should work "as a matter of urgency" to clarify ambiguities with the policy.

Age Concern Scotland undertook a consultation as part of Audit Scotland's review.

It said in talking to 60 people from 10 focus groups it found a general reduction in cleaning, laundry and shopping services across Scotland.

The survey also found that very few older people knew about the free personal care policy.

David Manion, chief executive of Age Concern Scotland, said: "It is clear that even where older people are in receipt of free personal care they don't know much about it.

"They don't understand how charges are calculated for other chargeable services and they are very concerned about the reduction in the services which make a huge difference to their ability to cope."

'Better planning'

Auditor General Robert Black said the policy was an important one for older people in Scotland.

He added: "It is well documented that Scotland has a growing older population and demand for free personal care will grow.

"There needs to be better planning and better funding of this policy."

The payments, increased in line with inflation, are about to go up to 149 a week for personal care, with an additional 67 for those in a care home which provides nursing care.

The total cost of the policy in the first four years was 1.8bn, although councils would have spent 1.2bn even if the policy had not been introduced, as some free services were previously provided.

This 600m gap had led to a growing shortfall in government funding, and by 2005 this annual gap was either 46m or 63m, depending on the assumptions used.

Percentage receiving free personal care in 2005/06

FREE PERSONAL CARE - KEY STATISTICS
SCOTTISH LOCAL AUTHORITIES TOTAL 65+ RESIDENTS FREE CARE RECIPIENTS 2005/06 (APPROX %)
Aberdeen City 32,398 10%
Aberdeenshire 35,806 8.5%
Angus 20,518 7%
Argyll and Bute 17,950 6.5%
Clackmannanshire 7,381 9.5%
Dum & Galloway 30,296 7%
Dundee City 25,660 8%
East Ayrshire 19,809 9%
East Dun 18,302 7%
East Lothian 16,209 9%
East Ren 14,989 7%
Edinburgh City 68,647 7.5%
Eilean Siar 5,350 12%
Falkirk 23,394 8%
Fife 59,228 9%
Glasgow City 85,749 12.5%
Highland 37,480 8.5%
Inverclyde 14,036 11.5%
Midlothian 12,544 8%
Moray 15,144 8%
N Ayrshire 23,403 8%
N Lanarkshire 46,784 9%
Orkney Islands 3,418 8.5%
Perth & Kinross 26,766 8%
Renfrewshire 27,145 7.5%
Scottish Borders 21,179 8.5%
Shetland Islands 3,326 8%
S Ayrshire 22,365 9%
S Lanarkshire 48,630 7%
Stirling 14,148 7%
W Dunbartonshire 14,642 10.5%
West Lothian 20,279 10%
Source: Audit Scotland



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Elderly Scots face care crisis



SEE ALSO
Brian Taylor blogs on care report
01 Feb 08 |  Scotland
'Life is good thanks to my carers'
01 Feb 08 |  Scotland
Investing in Scotland's health
01 Feb 08 |  Scotland
Pledge to increase care payments
18 Jan 08 |  Scotland
Costs warning over care provision
14 Sep 07 |  Highlands and Islands
Cashback for elderly care users
19 Jul 07 |  South of Scotland
Report uncovers care spending gap
03 Jul 07 |  Scotland
Review outlined for care policy
14 Jun 07 |  Scotland
Leaders clash over elderly care
08 Jun 06 |  Scotland

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