Dementia sufferers unwittingly paying for free NHS services, claims damning report

One in five care homes are being wrongly charged for services, according to the Alzheimer's Society and Care England

Ella Pickover
Thursday 05 May 2016 00:12 BST
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Care homes that are being charged for GP services are forking out an average of £12,191 a year
Care homes that are being charged for GP services are forking out an average of £12,191 a year (Getty)

Dementia sufferers are unwittingly paying millions for NHS services that should be free, a damning new report has concluded.

One in five care homes in England are being wrongly charged for services that should be free on the health service, according to the report from the Alzheimer's Society and Care England.

Care home residents, seven in 10 of whom are dementia sufferers, are forced to pay for their care as a result of increases in care home fees to cover the unnecessary costs, the report adds.

These patients are being treated as “second class citizens”, the report concludes.

Care homes that are being charged for GP services are forking out an average of £12,191 a year - with one home saying it had paid fees of £36,000, the Fix Dementia Care report found.

“A new Alzheimer's Society investigation has found that the NHS is treating many of the 280,000 people with dementia who live in care homes like second-class citizens,” the authors wrote.

“People are receiving a second-rate service and, to add insult to injury, are paying for the privilege.”

The Alzheimer's Society said that if one in five of England's 10,000 care homes are being unnecessarily charged the average fee, the total cost of GP charges for regular visits to attend to all registered patients who need primary care is £26.4 million a year.

The charity is calling on the Government to “end this unfair practice” and ensure that GP practices do not charge for delivering a standard primary care service.

GPs are acting outside their contract if they charge care homes for a visit to provide standard primary care. But they are permitted to charge for “non-standard primary care”, such as a hospital-style ward round to inspect all patients, but only if agreed in a separate contract between the care home and the GP practice.

The report, based on a survey of 300 care homes and information provided by people affected by dementia, also states that the NHS is “failing to provide adequate, timely access to vital services”.

The report details a number of cases where sufferers faced long waits for services, including:

* A patient waiting for eight weeks for a mental health referral, despite being identified as at risk of suicide;

* A dementia sufferer waiting for a year for physiotherapy following surgery;

* A care home resident with dementia being prescribed pain relief over the phone for a broken collar bone;

* And another being prescribed the wrong drugs because their GP insisted on conducting consultations over the phone.

The authors concluded: “People with dementia are being failed by an NHS that is not person-centred enough.

“We have found that vital NHS services, such as continence supplies and assessments, are being provided inconsistently and when it is convenient for the NHS, not when it is needed by people with dementia.

“Paying for services that should be free on the NHS is unfair on cash-strapped people with dementia, care homes and local authorities.”

Alzheimer's Society chief executive Jeremy Hughes said: “People with dementia living in care homes are just as entitled to receive free care from the NHS as anyone else. A care home is, after all, a person's home and health services must treat care homes as a vital part of the community, instead of holding them in disregard.

“It's unacceptable that this NHS double standard is leaving people with dementia waiting months for physiotherapy, incontinence and mental health services. In that time we are concerned they're being robbed of essential care and pain relief, as well as their dignity, self-esteem and independence.”

Commenting on the report, Davina Ludlow, director of carehome.co.uk, a care home reviews website, said: “It is tragic to see that due to this division between health and social care, residents living in care homes are being charged for GP visits.

“Why should care home residents be treated like lower class citizens and have to wait longer for access to physiotherapy, mental health services and continence products than other people in the UK?”

An NHS spokesman said: “The NHS has dramatically increased the number of people with dementia who are able to be diagnosed in order to receive early support.

“Care homes have first line responsibility for looking after their residents, with appropriate back-up from the local NHS, of the sort now being developed in the new vanguard programme.”

Janet Morrison, chief executive of charity Independent Age, added: “This investigation suggests older people are being robbed of their right to grow old with dignity, regularly being left bed-bound, incontinent or sedated.”

PA

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