Six years since I first wrote this article most people are still not aware that free nursing health care remains a right for elderly people.
06/07/2007 Big Issue in the North magazine
Thousands of elderly people are being forced to pay for nursing home care despite a court ruling emphasising that the NHS must provide free healthcare from cradle to grave.
Health authorities are continuing to act unlawfully by arguing that many patients leaving hospital to move into care homes are in need of social care – which the individual pays for – rather than healthcare, for which the NHS must pay.
The government has just set aside £220 million a year to tackle the problem but critics warn that this is just a drop in the ocean, with the real bill for unlawful care home fees running into the billions.
The issue has been highlighted by campaigner Robin Lovelock, whose website offers advice to families and individuals faced with huge bills.
He said he was “amazed” that health authorities had not attracted more media attention for continuing with a practice deemed unlawful in a court judgement eight years ago.
In 1999 Pamela Coughlan, who was grievously injured in a road traffic accident in 1971, won a landmark test case in the Appeal Court against North and East Devon Health Authority, which had wanted to close her Exeter nursing home and hand her over to social services.
The court ruled this unlawful, saying that the authority had attempted to “redefine healthcare as social care”.
The 1946 NHS Act established a right to free healthcare from cradle to grave. And the Law Society states: “Where a person’s primary need is for healthcare, and that is why they are placed in nursing home accommodation, the NHS is responsible for the full cost of the package.”
In 2003, Ann Abraham, the Health Service Ombudsman, ordered health authorities and trusts to follow Department of Health guidance after the Coughlan case to prevent elderly and disabled people from paying out of their own pockets for care that should be free. However, many elderly people are still being placed by social services in care homes, means tested and charged for all their care.
Lovelock set up the site www.nhscare.info four years ago after his own family experiences alerted him to the national picture. The website offers advice on how to ensure the NHS pays the full cost of healthcare and to recover fees unlawfully charged. “I felt duty-bound to act since a website was the only practical means of getting expert legal advice to the hundreds of thousands of families that needed it and still do,” said Lovelock.
After the Coughlan victory Lovelock wrongly believed there would be widespread publicity that ensured the practice was brought to an end.
“I am amazed that the press have still not put the simple facts clearly to the public, which remain that hundreds of thousands of families are paying billions of pounds for care homes when they should not pay,” he said.
Lovelock suggested that most success will be had if the patient is still in hospital and refuses to agree to a discharge into a nursing home until the NHS has agreed to pay the full cost of the home.
Lovelock said: “We’ve had cases where someone has told us that the hospital is asking them to find a nursing home as quickly as possible as a NHS bed costs £2,000 a week.
“Good care homes cost around half that and if the patient has bought their home they would be expected to sell it to fund their stay.
“We advise people not to be rude but to give the NHS the one page flyer from our site which points out the law. We have found that those who act early are much more likely to get the NHS to cover the full care costs. Those who have moved before getting an agreement often have a major battle to fight for justice.”
Article 2 - 3-9 May 2010 Big Issue in the North magazine
Free healthcare still denied
Thousands of elderly and disabled people remain unaware of their entitlement to free nursing care and are forced to sell their homes to pay for it, according to a campaigner. This is despite a landmark ruling 11 years ago re-affirming the 1946 NHS Act’s guarantee of the right to free healthcare from cradle to grave and comes three years after The Big Issue in the North first reported on this issue.
Campaigners now fear that the practices of health authorities under which elderly and disabled patients are transferred from hospitals into care homes on the basis of social rather than healthcare will be enshrined in changes being proposed by all three major parties after this week’s general election.
In 1999 road traffic accident victim Pamela Coughlan successfully opposed at the Appeal Court the closure of her Exeter nursing home and her transfer to social services, arguing that North and East Devon Health Authority sought to redefine healthcare as social care. Four years later health authorities were instructed to follow Department of Heath Guidance preventing elderly and disabled people paying for nursing care that should be free.
Businessman Robin Lovelock, who set up a website nine years ago to inform patients of their rights, said “hundreds if not thousands of people” have benefited from knowing that “anyone with care needs the same or greater than Pam Coughlan must be 100 per cent funded by the NHS”.
He added that one law firm has won back over £9 million in recovered costs for families and cited a recent case where £250,000 was recovered from the NHS by a family who had sold their house to pay for the care of an ex-soldier.
But Lovelock said that most people remain unaware of their entitlements and warned that proposed changes in social care by all the major parties could bring with it “changes in primary legislation to legalise what has been happening despite the Coughlan judgement”.
He added: “It would be a great shame if one of the pillars of the NHS was removed without proper discussion.”