NHS England has come under fire for failing to ensure that NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) meet their legal responsibilities to provide appropriate care for the most severely disabled people.
A new report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the current system is beset with delays and poor-quality assessments.
The Committee is concerned that cuts planned by NHS England of £855million from the national Continuing Health Care (CHC) spend by 2020-21 will restrict access to essential care for these highly vulnerable people and lead to fewer people getting the essential care they need. It also highlights serious shortcomings in the eligibility assessment process which has created widespread regional variations and a postcode lottery in the quality of care.
Yasmin Ameer, serious injury specialist at Nockolds Solicitors said the report should act as ‘a very loud wake-up call’ as the current process was ‘not fit for purpose’.
‘NHS continuing healthcare funding is intended to help some of the most vulnerable people in society,’ said Yasmin.
‘Too often people's care is compromised because no one makes them aware of the funding available, or helps them to navigate the hugely complicated process for accessing funding.
‘Those people that are assessed spend too long waiting to find out if they are eligible for funding, and to receive the essential care that they need. About one-third of assessments in 2015–16 took longer than 28 days. In some cases, people have died whilst waiting for a decision.
‘This current process is unacceptable and will only get worse if NHS England makes further budget cuts. In failing to meet its legal responsibilities to severely disabled people, NHS England is also leaving itself wide open to medical negligence claims.’
Said Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:
‘Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis have devastating effects on sufferers and their loved ones. Help with meeting the costs of ongoing care can make a critical difference to their quality of life.
‘It is therefore distressing to see the system intended to support such people fall short on so many fronts.
‘Oversight of CHC funding has been poor and NHS England’s demand that clinical commissioning groups make big efficiency savings will only add to the financial pressures on the frontline.
‘Government must step in now to ensure people with continuing healthcare needs are aware of the help available and that those eligible for funding receive essential care in a timely and consistent manner.’
Sue Browning, Chief Executive of Spinal Injuries Association said.
‘The Public Accounts Committee report into NHS Continuing Healthcare accurately reflects the experiences of our members. We are hearing depressing and alarming accounts of cuts to the size of CHC funding that is reducing care provision to unacceptable and unsafe standards. There are instances of overnight care being removed and we are receiving examples of people who have been threatened with a move out of their own home and into residential care, due to CHC budgetary constraints. which, as the PAC notes, lacks detail and has the real potential to put people at risk by forcing them to live with unsafe levels of care.
‘We are calling on NHS England to accept and act on all of the recommendations made in the report. We look forward to the NHS England report to the PAC by April 2018 on how it is addressing the serious deficiencies raised and are committed to working with NHS England to create a fair and legal process. The patient’s needs must be at the centre of decision making so that severely disabled people have a CHC system that genuinely engages with them to provide the independence, care and support they need and deserve.’ A full copy of the report can be found here.