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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Assembly pushes for free OAP care
nursing home
Assembly Members back the idea of free care
Free personal care for the elderly is expected to be backed in principle by the Welsh Assembly on Thursday.

The administration does not have the political teeth to introduce the measures itself, but Assembly Members hope a positive vote would increase pressure on the UK Government to change the rules.
Man in wheelchair
Elderly people may not be ill but still need care

In December 2001, free nursing care was introduced for elderly people in Wales.

Campaigners now want a simple, understandable system of personal care for the elderly, such as hands on help with cooking and eating.

All four political parties in the assembly have expressed their backing for free personal care and aim to persuade the Treasury to pay towards the costs - estimated at 67m a year in Wales.

The vote follows a study - When I'm 64 - commissioned by the assembly and compiled by a strategy group, mirroring developments of a free care scheme being developed in Scotland.

But Welsh Assembly Member are realistic that Thursday's vote is simply the first step in a long, sustained, high level lobbying to twist the Government's arm, possibly over a period of years.

Dame June Clark, a former president of the Royal College of Nursing, and a member of the Royal Commission that recommended free personal care, is backing the assembly's campaign.

"It is the difference between shopping and cooking for elderly people and feeding someone that cannot cook for themselves," said Dame June.

"How complex is their need? Is it they cannot get their food into their mouths or they cannot swallow?"

In Wales, the issue of free personal care for pensioners is seen as a positive vote winner, but the grounds have not been laid for such a policy.

Hard to fund

In Scotland, introducing free personal care has led to a financial wrangle with the Treasury about who foots the bills.

The Scottish Parliament lost the argument and has to pay an extra 23m - on top of the 100m annual cost of the scheme.

Earlier this month, the advisory group - chaired by Labour AM Dr Brian Gibbons - said the assembly would find it hard to fund such a scheme unless the UK Government gave its backing.

The report makes more than 100 recommendations to improve services for older people, including the appointment of a commissioner and a minister to look after their interests.

Tough choices

But the wide-ranging proposals in the report highlight a key dilemma of devolution.

The assembly may choose to adopt different policies in Wales in a number of areas but then has to make the difficult decision on how to fund them.

But Professor David Bell from Stirling University has said that extending that to include free personal care would cost between 67m and 87m now, rising to between 130m and 181m by 2020.

The Scottish Executive will introduce free personal care for the elderly in July at a cost of 125m a year, with the Northern Ireland Assembly expected to consider the idea in the autumn.

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Dame June Clark
"We are looking for kinds of care that are simple and understandable."
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Health
Free care for elderly tops poll
30 Sep 01 | Health
Long term care: The story so far
26 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Call for free elderly care
17 Apr 00 | Wales
Home care 'lottery' for elderly
16 Jul 99 | Health
The politics of long-term care
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