Confused councils are turning policy into a ‘laughing stock’, say charities

Scotland’s free personal care policy could become a “laughing stock” because of problems with funding and waiting lists, older people’s charities have claimed.

The warning came after the Scottish executive showed that half of the country’s 32 councils were making older people wait to receive and be assessed for free personal care. The cost of the policy also rose by £24m to £220m in 2004-5.

A spokesperson for Help the Aged Scotland said the increase in costs was expected, but that confusion and inconsistency over how councils were interpreting executive guidance was creating a postcode lottery.

“It is a flagship policy but this is casting doubts on it and giving more ammunition to those that are against it. It is in danger of sapping confidence and becoming a laughing stock. Councils and the executive need to sort these teething troubles out quickly, ” the spokesperson said.

An Alzheimer’s Scotland spokesperson said confidence in the policy could be undermined if the waiting list problems and confusion over whether food preparation costs should be covered by the policy were not ironed out.

Scotland’s deputy health minister Lewis Macdonald said last week that people were waiting to receive services at home or in the community in 15 councils. In another two areas people were waiting to be assessed to see if they qualified for free care.

He told the Scottish parliament’s health committee, which is reviewing the policy, that he was concerned about the figures. “That’s why I have asked my officials to pursue the matter with local authorities to ensure older people can access services to which they are entitled,” he added.

No details of the length of the waiting lists were given, but shadow health spokesperson Shona Robison said there were major problems in Dundee.

A Dundee Council spokesperson said 22 people were waiting for free personal care, and that delays averaged 50 days. However, assessment times had fallen from six weeks to days.

Macdonald said councils were misunderstanding obligations and not providing older people’s services with enough resources. But councils argue that the executive is not giving them enough funding; councils received a total of £147m in 2004-5, leaving a shortfall of £73m.

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