Sit-in halts NHS evictions

Alzheimer's/ relatives win
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The Independent Online
PLANS to evict six elderly Alzheimer's disease sufferers from a nursing home have been halted by the High Court after a six-day sit- in by relatives.

The relatives, who occupied the NHS-owned building last week to prevent the removal of patients, have been granted an injunction ordering North Worcestershire Health Authority to halt the closure and to continue to nurse the six.

The patients had fallen victims to a dispute over who should pay for their care after the health authority closed the long-stay hospital they once occupied and put them into the home, the management of which was leased to a housing association.

Under community care rules, once patients are moved out of hospitals into nursing homes, the NHS stops providing free services and patients have to pay, usually with the Department of Social Security picking up the bill.

But the patients were served with a notice to quit after the DSS decided that they were NHS patients after all, and not eligible for state aid of pounds 560 a week to pay for their accommodation at Churchview House, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.

Each of the six had a letter from the Sanctuary Housing Association which said: "We have had discussions with all agencies involved in an attempt to find a way to secure the home's future. Unfortunately, this has not been possible and we have no alternative but to give you four weeks' notice to terminate your accommodation from May 11."

"There was no way we were going to accept that," said one of the relatives, Janet Day. "Our relatives did not want to move, and why should they be shunted around against their will?

"We moved in and occupied the building for six days. At one point we were told that nursing cover would end at midnight, but it didn't. In the end, we went to the High Court and obtained an injunction to stop all this happening while we seek a judicial review.

"We are absolutely delighted at the decision. We did not want our relatives to be moved to this nursing home in the first place. The authorities must realise they cannot just move people around like this. Patients are human beings".

Luke Clements, solicitor for the relatives, said : "Mr Justice Popplewell has granted us an injunction. The DSS has ruled that, as far as it is concerned, these people are NHS patients. The NHS owns the building and simply having a housing association carrying out the management, does not remove its responsibility."

The unique legal wrangling over the dementia patients has highlighted the grey area surrounding continuing care of the elderly and the problems of establishing when care ceases to be free.

In the past, NHS care was thought to be 'from the cradle to the grave', but a number of decisions in the past two years have made it clear that what the NHS will now fund for elderly people is treatment, rather than care. Simple care is a social security matter, usually for local authorities, which often force the sale of homes so that care can be funded.

Last night, as relatives celebrated their victory, senior health officials said care was being provided for the elderly patients by nurses organised by GPs.

While relatives said they were pressing for a judicial review of the health authority's action, Dr Valerie Chishty, North Worcestershire's director of public health, said the authority will be challenging the injunction.