Dying face costly private sector care

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HOSPITALS are discharging terminally ill elderly patients to spend their last few weeks in private nursing homes - to be paid for by themselves, their families or overstretched local councils, social services directors claimed yesterday.

Draft guidelines, published by the Department of Health in August, will further encourage hospitals to 'shunt' responsibility for long-term care of an ageing population from the NHS to means- tested social care, the directors predict.

The executive of the Association of Directors of Social Services yesterday called on the Government to withdraw the draft guidance and draw up a policy which clarifies who should care and who should pay for care after elderly patients leave hospital.

Tad Kubisa, vice-president of the association, said several directors had reported that an increasing number of patients being discharged from hospital into their care were terminally ill and lived for just a few weeks. One authority said 30 per cent of patients discharged into their care were dying.

Mr Kubisa said the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act, which gave social services increasing responsibility for providing care in the community for elderly and other vulnerable groups, was never intended to offload responsibility for people who needed nursing care from the NHS, but the rate of such referrals was escalating and local authorities had not received the extra funding this required.

'The association thinks it is unreasonable to be expected to pay for people we weren't paid to deal with. Increasingly, patients who are dying are being shunted on to us. They then have to be assessed and means-tested by us. That is not bestowing dignity on them for the last few weeks in their life.'