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Liberal Democrats warn of looming care crisis

Liberal
Democrats have called on government to avert the “looming care crisis”,
claiming a lack of capacity is creating “winter pressures in the NHS all year
round”, while constraints on social services budgets forced councils to
“squeeze” care home fees.

The
annual conference overwhelmingly backed a call on government to commission an
independent assessment of the level of social services budgets, abolish
charging for personal care, and invest in the expansion of preventive social
care.

Liberal
Democrat shadow minister for older people Paul Burstow said the party should be
proud of its action in the Scottish Executive where plans for delivering free
personal care to the elderly had been unveiled this week.

MSP
Iain Smith told delegates not to believe health secretary Alan Milburn and
chancellor Gordon Brown when they said free personal care was not affordable.
“We’ve done it in Scotland,” he said. “The matter of principle is caring for
our elderly and meeting the costs.”

Burstow
criticised the way free nursing care had been dealt with in England: “Alan
Milburn calls it free nursing care. It’s nothing of the sort. [He] has defined
nursing care in the narrowest and meanest terms.”

Burstow
also questioned the role of nurses as both providers and gatekeepers of free
nursing care, hitting out at the “desktop analysis” which would comprise the
assessment system. “There will be no face-to-face contact whatsoever,” he said.
“It’s hard to look someone in the eye and tell them that they have to pay for
their care – and nurses shouldn’t have to do that.”

Party
member Ruth Berry captured much of the mood over the “scandalous” and
“bureaucratic nonsense” of free nursing care. “It’s not a looming care crisis.
It’s happening today,” she said. “It’s a blooming disaster and we must drive it
away.”

The
conference also called for government to value and raise the profile, pay and
conditions of front-line care workers, as well as providing properly resourced
training and development.

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