Thursday, 16 December 2010

No ifs or buts - The Law still demands the NHS pay for care homes

The coalition government seems set to continue with the policy of the past sixty four years by failing to inform electors that, under the NHS Act of 1946, all long term care for those who need it should be free.

Consequently, like millions before them, thousands of mainly elderly people legally entitled to free health care will continue to be treated unlawfully by health authorities that force them to sell their homes to pay for care. This will be  despite a landmark ruling eleven years ago re-affirming under the 1946 NHS Act a right to free health care from cradle to grave.

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 care that should be free.

However when he subsequently gathered evidence from right across the country businessman Robin Lovelock was convinced little had changed. Almost a decade ago he set up www.nhscareinfo and claims “hundreds, if not thousands of people have benefited. The Law is that anyone with care needs the same or greater than Pam Coughlan, must be 100% funded by the NHS - including all Care Home costs.

The Labour Government from 1997 to 2010 followed the strategy of the previous Major/Thatcher Government to evade the legal obligation of the NHS to pay for long-term care resulting from a stroke, road accident, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or other health conditions. The NHS closed down long term stay beds, typically occupied by geriatric patients, and used Social Services to approach families, misinform them, and get them to pay for the Care Home after means testing. Those without sufficient savings, or a house to sell, become the burden of local Council Tax payers. Many of the people who have given the NHS our one page flyer have had their full care costs covered. One Law firm [*] has won back over £9 million in recovered costs for families."

Earlier this year the family of war veteran Leslie Terry, 88 won over a quarter of million pounds from the NHS in compensation for being forced to sell his home to pay for his £3,500 a month care. Suffering from Alzheimer’s Mr Terry, who served in Burma and India, has not been out of bed for years.

Despite such successes Lovelock believes most people are unaware of their entitlements. He is highly critical of the media accusing them of “concentrating on bad news rather than informing their readers in plain English of their rights.”

Neither is he expecting the government to mount a campaign to let people know their rights. In opposition the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for older people, Paul Burstow MP, was highly critical of Labour’s record on denying free health care, calling it a “cruel hoax.” However since he was appointed minister for care services in May 2010 he seems to have lost his tongue on the matter.

At least, if that remains the case, the way will be open for others to assert their rights but Lovelock is concerned they will soon find them being curtailed by “new legislation legalising what has been happening, despite the Coughlan judgment. It would be a great shame if one of the pillars of the NHS was removed.” 

* The firm is Hugh James of Cardiff, Wales. 

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