Burnham Launches Hospital Parking Review

(Independent) – THE NHS HAS NOT GIVEN ENOUGH ATTENTION to hospital car parking charges, Health Secretary Andy Burnham said as he launched a consultation on the issue today.

People will be asked their views on proposals to abolish charges for some out-patients as well as in-patients.

Mr Burnham pledged to phase out car park costs for in-patients over the next three years when he addressed the Labour Party conference in September.

The Health Secretary also said he wanted to introduce parking permits to allow friends and relatives to visit in-patients for free.

The eight-week consultation will ask if free parking should be available for visitors to all in-patients or if it should only become free for friends and relatives of those admitted for a long stay.

It will also suggest options to make parking charges fairer for out-patients.

These include giving access to free parking for those who need to attend a series of appointments or placing a cap on charges for priority out-patient groups who attend regular hospital appointments.

Mr Burnham told GMTV: “I am aware of the strong feelings on the issue and to be honest I don’t think the NHS has given the attention it deserves to this issue because people do feel very strongly about it.

“What I am saying is that people who are going into hospital are often at a low point in their life emotionally or financially.

“The cost of parking can add extra pressure to them so I am saying we need to do more to recognise that and to have fairer parking charges across the NHS.

“The consultation we are launching today is to develop a clear set of principles that we can apply across the system and that is why I want to hear people’s views.”

He said out-patients receiving regular treatment such as chemotherapy or dialysis could face “very serious charges too” and asked for views on both in- and out- patients.

The Health Secretary said he noticed the problems caused by parking costs when his father was in hospital earlier this year.

“It really brought home to me how some people were not getting the number of visits as others were because their family could not afford the charges,” he said. “I am very clear that that is a part of patient care, having regular contact with the family. It can help people recover more quickly.”

Mr Burnham acknowledged it cost the NHS money to run secure car parks in hospitals but said there was a “balance to be struck”.

“It is right that we make sure that the funds that are raised come back to benefit patients,” he added.

“I also believe there are efficiencies that hospitals can make that can make this affordable to them so we’ve thought carefully about it.

“We want to get the balance right.”

Mike Hobday, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We are delighted that the Government has finally listened to our repeated calls and is now looking at giving free parking for all cancer patients.

“At long last the Westminster Government has acknowledged the high cost to patients and it is time they abolished these charges once and for all in England.

“A recent poll by Macmillan showed that eight out of 10 people want the Government to abolish hospital parking charges for cancer patients.

“Hospitals save £6,000 by delivering a six-week course of radiotherapy on an out-patient basis – money which could, and should, be used to help all cancer patients with the cost of parking.

“We hope that the consultation will result in the lifting of a great financial burden for cancer patients.

“Charging people to visit hospital to receive life-saving treatment has caused needless distress for far too long and is nothing more than a tax on illness.”

The average charge for hospital car parking per hour in England in 2008/9 was £1.09.

All trusts are expected to have concessionary schemes to offer reduced price or free parking for patients who visit hospital regularly and the trusts are responsible for ensuring that eligible patients are aware of concessions.

The Department of Health consultation will close on 23 February next year.

David Cameron Sparks Row Over New Care Plans

(Telegraph) – THE CONSERVATIVES SPARKED A BITTER POLITICAL ROW last night by claiming two million pensioners would lose out under new Labour plans to reform the system of elderly care.

David Cameron seized on the Government’s Queen’s Speech proposals which ministers maintain will help 300,000 pensioners get free personal care at home.

The Conservative leader warned that establishing a national care service, which Gordon Brown announced in his party conference speech, would mean scrapping the attendance allowance and the disability living allowance.

The Tories claimed that up to 2.4 million pensioners would lose around £60-a-week — the equivalent of more than £3,000 a year — which in some cases could be as much as a quarter of their income.

Mr Cameron said: ‘It is a good idea to help people in their homes but the Prime Minister appears to be proposing to abolish these benefits that people rely on.’

The Tories claimed the money the Government saved on not paying the benefits would be used to fund the £670 million costs of the new scheme, which is designed to provide free home care for 280,000 elderly and disabled people who need help to carry out basic functions such as dressing, getting out of bed and using the lavatory.

Another 130,000 frail patients are to receive support on leaving hospital, with improvements such as grab rails and panic buttons. At the moment, home care is means tested so that anyone with savings of more than £23,000 has to pay for care. Under the new scheme, people will qualify on the basis of need.

The Conservatives point to comments by Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, in July in which he said ‘the costs of care can be better spent by combining investment in social care with disability benefits, particularly attendance allowance.’

However, Mr Burnham, reacted furiously to the Conservative claim that benefits for the elderly would have to be cut to pay for it and accused Mr Cameron of scaremongering and ‘gutter politics.’ He insisted that the cost of his plans would be met from within the Department of Health’s budget.

He told the BBC’s World at One: ‘It is really gutter politics to raise concerns among some of the most vulnerable people in our society that their benefits will be cut. This suggestion — I just find it offensive.

‘It is possible that we could reform attendance allowance as part of our plans for a national care service. That is a proposal on which we are consulting in our green paper.

‘But let me also be clear, we have said that anybody who is in receipt of those benefits would get an equivalent level of support.’

However, Mr Burnham also faced stinging criticism from his own side when Lord Lipsey, a former member of the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care, accused ministers of pre-empting the consultation process that was still under way on future care provision.

The veteran Labour peer said: ‘In the middle of the consultation on that, in one of the most disorderly pieces of government I have ever seen in 40 years of political life, the Prime Minister has declared that it is Government policy that people with severe care needs in their own home should be paid for in full.

‘I think that is a bad policy but I think it is also a bad way to do policy just to find a nice highlight for your Labour Party conference speech. I am afraid that what has happened is that into this very complicated but important policy process, has been injected something that is just a bit of a gimmick.’

In the face of the attack from both a respected Labour peer and the Conservatives, the Prime Minister was forced to defend the policy.

Speaking on ITV’s This Morning Mr Brown said: ‘This is a major breakthrough because for the first time people of whatever income, so we don’t need a means test on this, if you have got special and urgent needs…we will help you stay in your own home and you will not have to go into institutional care by providing not just medical care but providing the home help care and the help with clothes and cooking and cleaning and everything else.’

MPs Now Talking Of £20K Elderly Care

(Reuters) – BRITAIN MAY INTRODUCE a compulsory charge of up to £20,000 per person to pay for care in old age, health minister Andy Burnham said on Tuesday.

Just last month, the proposal was priced at around £12,000.

The proposal, which would see everyone who can afford it paying between £17,000 and £20,000, is one of the three options being considered alongside a top-up payment system and an insurance-based approach.

‘We are proposing a radical reform of care… we need a system that’s fair, simple and affordable for everyone,’ Burnham said.

Under the current system, some people have to pay tens of thousands of pounds, or sell their house, to pay for care in old age, since those with homes or savings worth more than £23,500 must pay for their own care.

On average, Britons spend £30,000 for care but 20% pay more than £50,000 and those who develop serious conditions like Alzheimer’s can pay more than £200,000.

Caring for the country’s ageing population is a big and growing business for operators of care homes, such as Southern Cross, Care UK, Nestor, Claimar Care and Mears Group.

Experts say the current system of paying for care is a lottery and not sustainable in the long-term.

‘With the ageing population, and a diminishing workforce to support the elderly, there’s going to be a significant shortfall,’ said Gris Glasper, an industry analyst at stockbroker Brewin Dolphin.

‘Either the price of care needs to come down significantly; or something else needs to be addressed — and that is an increased burden on the individual.’

But the opposition Conservative Party said Burnham’s so-called green paper on care simply started another debate, rather than taking hard decisions now.

In addition to the idea of compulsory payments, the two other options proposed are a partnership arrangement, where the state would provide between a quarter and a third of the cost of care; and a voluntary insurance scheme, which would cost individuals £20,000-£25,000.

Stephen Haddrill, director general of the Association of British Insurers, said the insurance industry ‘stands ready to work alongside the government to provide a realistic and sustainable solution.’

Burnham Is New Health Minister

ANDY BURNHAM moves from culture to become the new Secretary of Health.