Anger at NHS care plans

The NHS has been accused of splitting families up to save money as part of plans to put people with serious long-term health problems into nursing homes.

The NHS has been accused of splitting families up to save money as part of plans to put people with serious long-term health problems into nursing homes.

It would mean that people could be prevented from staying at home surrounded by their loved ones. One disabled woman said she “would want to die” if the changes happened to her.

The NHS in Norfolk and Great Yarmouth and Waveney is trying to save money on what it calls “continuing care”. A consultation has just started on new policies which say that in future people will not usually get NHS continuing healthcare at home, only in a nursing home or hospice. And they may not be able to go to their first choice of nursing home if it is more expensive than the cheapest option.

The health trusts say they want to focus on clinical safety, and that it is getting too expensive to provide continuing care. The cost for this care for the year ending in April is expected to be �31.1m, up from �13.2m two years ago, and the changes will save an estimated �1m.

In future people will not be able to have a care option paid for by the NHS if it is more than 20pc more expensive than the cheapest option. This will rule out some nursing homes and will almost always rule out care at home, which costs �8,000 a month on average compared with �4,100 for the average nursing home.

The change of policy comes despite a recent NHS push for patient choice and a drive to allow people to die in their own homes if they wish.

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Caroline Fairless-Price, 53, a mother-of-two from Cringleford, has multiple sclerosis. The former farm vet uses a wheelchair and needs a large amount of care at home, some of which is provided by her husband Chris, a GP. At the moment her needs are classed as social care and provided by Norfolk County Council, but she expects that in future she will be eligible for NHS care, and she fears that she will lose the chance to stay at home. She said: “My reaction is one of horror. I have got a life at the moment, I live at home with my family, I don't feel disabled. This would destroy my life. I would want to die if this happened to me.”

She added: “I greatly appreciate the service I receive. I am sorry to be a drain on society, but I can't do anything about it.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “Pushing people into nursing homes against their will is a very dangerous game.

“You have to look at the potential for breaking up couples. This is a real human rights issue. How do you put a price on the instinct that many couples have to want to be together?”

Mark Harrison, chief executive of the Norfolk Coalition for Disabled People, said: “It looks like a cost-cutting exercise. We need to be moving away from institutionalising people rather than promoting it.

“It seems to be going against every other health and social care policy, which say you should increase choice.”

He added that the cheapest nursing homes are more likely to have lower pay and a quicker turnover of staff. “You get what you pay for,” he said.

The proposed policies will mainly apply to new patients, but if people who already receive care at home deteriorate, then they too could be moved into nursing homes. The NHS has already drawn up a list of the 23 most ill patients being looked after at home, whose care is costing an average of �100,000 each a year. Their cases will be reviewed to see if the risks of looking after them at home have risen.

The proposal says care at home is also higher risk to the patient and even if it is not more expensive, this care will only be provided if the patient is capable of making a decision, understands the risks, will benefit from being looked after at home, and if they and their loved ones sign a disclaimer.

NHS Norfolk's deputy chief executive, David Stonehouse, said: “This review of continuing healthcare is driven by our need to manage clinical risks to patients. It will ensure patients receive the care they need in the right setting.

“If upon review, it is clear that their care should continue in a specialised nursing home then we shall work closely with the patients and their families to ensure their needs and wishes are respected as far as possible.”

t You can take part in the consultation by visiting, or ring 01603 595842 to request a consultation document.