NHS 'failing terminally ill'

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

Some terminally ill people are being offered only "three to four weeks" care by health authorities trying to exclude too many of the dying and incurably ill from their entitlement to free NHS care, according to the Department of Health.

Others, sometimes in virtually neighbouring authorities, are being offered up to 12 months' terminal care - just one of the dramatic local variations in the levels of continuing NHS care that have started to emerge from new eligibility criteria which health authorities are due to implement from April.

The criteria have been drawn up on ministers' instructions after fierce criticism by the Ombudsman of Leeds Health Authority for discharging a profoundly brain damaged and helpless 55-year-old man to means-tested care on the grounds that doctors could no longer improve his condition.

But a review of the criteria authorities will now apply has shown that some are still attempting to exclude such cases, the Department of Health's NHS Executive said yesterday. And others have set time limits on "palliative care" - relieving the symptoms of terminal or incurable disease - when such limits should not be set.