Headlines: December 10th, 2004

The Department of Health has announced it is moving to develop a national consistent approach to assessment for fully funded NHS continuing care, in anticipation of one of the key recommendations to be included in the Health Service Ombudsman’s forthcoming report on funding for long-term care, which is due for publication before Christmas.The Ombudsman’s report will highlight problems arising from the lack of a national policy and guidance and say that from the patient’s point of view applying for continuing care funding has been a lengthy and sometimes hit and miss process, causing real hardship for a number of disabled and elderly people and their carers.

The report is based on more than 4,000 complaints about the review process received since February 2003. It will call for the national framework to include national minimum eligibility criteria that are understandable to health professionals, patients and carers. Other recommendations will include developing accredited assessment tools and good practice guidance, supporting training and development to expand local capacity so cases are assessed and decided properly and promptly and improving record keeping and documentation.

Health Service Ombudsman Ann Abraham said she had consistently highlighted the lack of a national framework. “Our forthcoming report highlights that the only way to make the system transparent and fair, is to have national minimum eligibility criteria, with a national set of assessment tools and guidance on how to conduct and report on the reviews,” she said. There were examples of of good practice and systems in some Strategic Health Authorities and these could form the basis for the work to be done.

The Health Minister Stephen Ladyman said his department would work with the SHAs and, learning from good practice and supported by the findings of an independent review, would produce a national approach to continuing care to improve consistency, and ease of understanding. This did not, he said, represent a break from past practice but it would make the process easier to understand for practitioners and patients alike.