Surgery removes elderly blind from practice list

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BLIND residents of an old people's home have been struck off the list of a fund- holding doctors' surgery because they were making too many demands on the practice.

The 54 residents of the the New Wycliffe Home, in Leicester, are aged between 80 and 103 and are all either blind or partially-sighted.

They were told just before Christmas by the Rushey Mead Health Centre that they were being removed from the rolls because they were taking up too many of practice's resources.

The case, not highlighted at the time, was made public yesterday after the national controversy over the degree of care which the health service offers the elderly highlighted in two cases last week. In one, a 73- year-old arthritis sufferer was refused physiotherapy under an instruction from Brighton Health Authority, and in the second a 78-year-old man with chest pains was refused admission to the Royal Free NHS trust hospital in Hampstead, north London. The Royal Free has now said that it will reassess this case.

The cases led to an acrimonious clash in the Commons between John Major and Margaret Beckett, the deputy Labour leader. Sally Greengross, head of the charity, Age Concern, said it was appalling for anyone to be denied any treatment on grounds of age.

Yesterday one of the doctors at the Rushey Mead Health Centre, Dr Jan Hellendoorn, said that the number of visits they had to make to the home was very high.

Dr Hellendoorn added that the Family Health Services Authority had been made aware of the full reasons.

Nick Haidemenos, manager of the home run by the Royal Rutland and Wycliffe Society for the Blind, said: 'We were incensed. It is totally wrong. These people have worked and paid into the NHS since it began but when they become elderly they are dumped.'

Staff at the home were forced to try to find other GPs willing to treat the old people, and eventually found a practice still funded in the traditional way which agreed to take them.

They insist the residents at the home make less use of the GPs than they would if they were individuals living in the community. There are nursing staff at the home who treat minor ailments and any treatment to do with their eyesight would be at a hospital.

GPs who have elected to become fund-holding practices under the NHS reforms receive an annual budget, based on the number of patients on their lists, to pay for all their patients' needs, including drugs and hospital treatment.

There have been fears that fund-holding would disadvantage the elderly or chronically sick. GPs have always been entitled to remove patients from their lists but this arose rarely and usually because of personality clashes.