'NHS failing to care for elderly'

ELDERLY people in Suffolk and Essex who need care because of chronic health problems are being let down by the NHS, a charity has claimed.

ELDERLY people in Suffolk and Essex who need care because of chronic health problems are being let down by the NHS, a charity has claimed.

Figures obtained by Age Concern show that just 8.08 people per 50,000 of the population received continuing care funding from Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) in the final three months of 2007 - the fourth lowest figure in the country.

In Mid Essex the figure for the same period was 13.33 per 50,000 - although this dropped from 126.92 for the first three months of 2007.

North East Essex PCT also fared poorly with 14.27 people per 50,000 receiving continuing care funding.

Continuing care is given to people who do not need to be in hospital but have long-term health needs. The national average is 27.82 people per 50,000 in population who receive funding from PCTs.

Daphne Savage, chief executive of Age Concern Suffolk, said the Government must act quickly to achieve fairness for all elderly people.

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“It is very disappointing to find that Suffolk is near the bottom of the league table in terms of the numbers of older people getting NHS continuing care funding to cover the costs of their care.

“These elderly people are the frailest people in our society and often near the end of their lives and local PCTs should invest in supporting them and their families in a fair way that matches the best in England, not the worst.”

Age Concern said the figures were further evidence of a postcode lottery. In contrast, the Coventry Teaching PCT district 88.07 people per 50,000 received continuing care funding.

West Chelmsford MP Simon Burns said he was “extremely concerned” about the findings and would be seeking an explanation from Mid Essex PCT.

Jonathan Williams, chief nurse at Suffolk PCT, said the board recognised more patients would be eligible for care following new Government guidelines and increased its annual budget from £2.3 million to £8.6 million.

The PCT also increased its budget for NHS-funded nurses in nursing homes from £6.2 million to £6.8 million.

Mr Williams said: “Since then the eligibility of patients has been - and is in the process of being - systematically reviewed. This process will take time and we are doing our very best to complete all the checks by October this year. We have 1,400 patients in nursing homes and are making an average of 120 checks a month to look at potential eligibility.

“We want to make sure people are treated fairly, that the system is equitable across the county. We are offering the best possible care to as many people as possible.”

A spokesperson for Mid Essex PCT said the figures did not reflect the actual number of cases it dealt with.

He said: “The PCT has been responsible for managing the continuing care funding for residents of mid Essex since June 2007.

“The numbers of individuals supported by the PCT has actually increased from that time. In August 2007 we produced our first report showing that we were supporting 92 individuals with continuing care needs.”

A spokesman for North East Essex Primary Care Trust said: “We adopted the national guidelines on 1 October and have a proposed spending requirement in 2008/09 which is a 22% increase on the 2007/08 budget.

“The figures published by Age Concern show that the number of people receiving continuing care in North East Essex rose continuously during the course of 2007 - which was not the case with all PCTs - and we are confident that this trend will continue.”

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