Headlines: June 20th, 2006

Plans for a new single national system for access to free National Health Service continuing care are going out to consultation. The Department of Health believes the idea would do away with the so-called ‘postcode lottery’ and create consistency across the NHS by creating national policies for eligibility and assessment.The proposals would also abolish different nursing bands for free nursing care and end the need to carry out more than 130,000 nursing assessments each year. That will free more time for nurses and do away with repeated patient assessments. The DoH also claims the move will make the system faster and more convenient for patients and pave the way for tens of millions in administrative savings.

About 21,000 people currently receive free NHS continuing care and around 70 per cent of people in care homes have some or all of their personal care costs paid for from the public purse. The National Framework has been drawn up in consultation with voluntary groups and patient and user groups as part of the commitment to ensuring that the views of patients and their carers are incorporated in it.

Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis said the new system should result in cost benefits in terms of reduction in nursing and administrative activity as well as reducing the administrative hoops that service users have to jump through before they receive the care they need. “This is a sensitive area which affects many vulnerable people, which is why we have launched this consultation. It is important that everyone has the chance to get involved,” he said.

Ann Abraham, Health Service Ombudsman for England, welcomed the consultation on the improved national framework. She had recommended in a report in 2004 that the Government should lead the work in establishing clear, national, minimum eligibility criteria that were understandable to health professionals, patients and carers.