Headlines: September 29th, 2003

In an unprecedented move nine members of the Royal Commission on Long Term Care are calling today for the implementation of the recommendation, made in the Commission’s report of 1999, that personal care should be free.In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the state supports nursing care for the elderly but pays for personal care only on a rigidly means-tested basis. The Scottish Executive has already adopted the recommendation on free personal care. The nine Commissioners today welcome that move but say that the situation in the rest of the country is unstable and “if not dealt with in the near future will implode”.They point to what they call huge ethical, conceptual and practical difficulties in distinguishing nursing care from personal care in the cases of ill and disabled older people. They say too that the system of making decisions on entitlement to financial support dependent on the type of carer rather than on the care that is needed puts providers before patients.

The nine, who include Lord Sutherland who chaired the Commission, say the one billion pound plus annual bill for free personal care is affordable, especially in the light of the extra funding that has been found for the Health service. They argue, too, that the move would make economic sense.Given the financial position of older people, they say, there is no question of free personal care being an unnecessary handout to the rich. Instead, it is vital to meet a pressing need which has been consistently identified by older people and the wider public.