Lords force delay in bed-blocking fines

Government plans to fine social services from April for delayed
discharges from hospital have been put on hold for at least six
months, writes Katie Leason.

The department of health has confirmed that it will be proposing
“a further six months preparation period” before the Community Care
(Delayed Discharges) Bill is implemented, which would mean a new
start date of 1 October.

This move followed a vote by Liberal Democrats, Conservatives
and cross-benchers in the House of Lords calling for the start date
of fining to be put back for a whole year – until after 1
April 2004.

However, at this stage it seems unlikely that the doh will agree
to a delay of this length.  A spokesperson claimed that the issue
is “too important to be put off for a year”, and that the extra
six-month preparation period is “an important compromise”.

If the Lords continue to block the bill’s progress by
demanding a one year delay, the government can resort to using the
Parliament Act to override their opposition.

However, it is unlikely that the government will resort to using
this rarely used tactic, and even if it did, the bill would still
not be implemented for at least a year.

Older people’s charity Help the Aged said that a six-month
delay was not enough, and that at least a year was needed.

“This really is the minimum period which is necessary to permit
social services to utilise the new money which they will be
receiving from government from 1 April,” explained deputy head of
policy Jenny Stiles.

Glenys Jones, chairperson of the Association of Directors of
Social Services older people’s committee, said she would
prefer the bill to be delayed for a year, and in the meantime for
the extra doh money – £100 million per year for three years
– to be released immediately to start building capacity.

“In six months you could do the work around home care services
and equipment and adaptations, but you need money to invest in
capacity growth. To build capacity in residential care, a year
would be better,” she said.

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