Bridget Phillipson, Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South and member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), has called on the government to take urgent action to address glaring failures in the funding system for people with continuing healthcare needs.
According to a report published this morning by the PAC (Parliament’s public spending watchdog), the current system for assessing eligibility for continuing healthcare funding is overly complicated, beset with delays, and inconsistently-applied across different Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).
During the PAC inquiry into this issue last November, people who rely on continuing healthcare funding -; such as those with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions -; told MPs on the Committee how exhausting and baffling the process of applying for funding can be.
Today’s report confirms that the current assessment system is failing patients in more ways than one. Care is often compromised because no one makes patients aware of the funding that is available, or helps them to navigate the hugely complicated process for accessing funding.
Meanwhile, people who are assessed are waiting far too long to find out if they are eligible for funding and to receive the essential care they need. About one third of assessments in 2015-16 took longer than the 28 days it should. In some cases, people have died whilst waiting for a decision.
There is also unacceptable variation between areas in the number of people assessed as eligible to receive funding, ranging from 28 to 356 people per 50,000 population in 2015-16, caused partly by CCGs interpreting the assessment criteria inconsistently.
The report furthermore makes it clear that the Department of Health and NHS England are not doing enough to ensure that CCGs are meeting their responsibilities or to address the postcode lottery in accessing funding.
Speaking after the publication of today’s PAC report, Bridget Phillipson MP said:
“The report published today on NHS continuing healthcare funding (CHC) makes shocking reading for the Department of Health and NHS England.
“It is truly shocking that some seriously ill and vulnerable patients have died whilst waiting for a decision on whether they are eligible for funding.
“The time it takes for people who are entitled to receive the care they need is also unacceptable. That’s why I’m calling for the government to act now to overhaul this failing system.
“Worryingly, it is also not clear how Clinical Commissioning Groups can make the £855 million of efficiency savings in CHC and NHS-funded nursing care spending by 2020-21 without either increasing the eligibility threshold or by limiting the care packages available.
“This issue is part of a wider crisis over health and social care in this country.
“We need to find a long-term solution to this crisis, particularly how to make sure that people get the right care and support where and when they need it.
“Funding is a big part of that, but there are also some serious structural and policy issues that this government is simply failing to address -; and that’s not good enough for those people whose quality of life and safety is increasingly at risk.”
The full text of the Committee’s Conclusions and Recommendations is included in the Report, which can be accessed here.