Lib Dems promise improved elderly care

Government should fund a £2 billion package of personal care budgets for the elderly, the Liberal Democrats said today.

New Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said increased funding for elderly care would end the “scandalous injustice” of older people using their savings to pay for necessary care.

The Liberal Democrats would accordingly introduce a “care guarantee”, allowing elderly people a share of £2 billion funding based on their need, rather than ability to pay.

Speaking at an Age Concern centre in Kingston, Mr Clegg said this would make the Lib Dems the first party to end the “punishing poverty” that results from elderly people paying for personal care out of their own pockets.

Mr Clegg continued: “We would introduce a personal care payment based on need, not on your ability to pay. It simply isn’t possible to be committed to a free and fair NHS without ending this scandalous injustice.”

Setting out his vision for a “people’s health service”, Mr Clegg also pledged to extend the use of direct payments and individual budgets for people with chronic long-term conditions, mental health difficulties or learning disabilities.

He also advocated referring NHS patients to private clinics at the state’s expense if they could not be seen within a maximum waiting time.

Calling for a health service that puts individuals in the “driving seat of their own healthcare,” Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems would introduce a “patient contract,” guaranteeing every citizen access to high standard care.

He said: “Sixty years after it was founded, the NHS is in desperate need of a new direction. The battle for extra investment has largely been won, but the service we are getting is simply not good enough.

“Cancer survival is below the European average and health inequalities have widened under Labour. Many older people are not getting the personal care they so desperately require. We are letting down those most in need.

“The question is not ‘how much’, but ‘how we spend the money’ so that everyone gets the healthcare they need.”

The Lib Dem leader also vowed to replace “unaccountable” primary care trusts with directly elected Health Boards, giving communities “genuine” control over local health services.

Help the Aged welcomed the “very attractive” Lib Dem package, arguing reform of the “creaking” social care system is long overdue.

Paul Cann, director of policy and external relations, said: “Care is not cheap – and will become more expensive. Ensuring we have a fair and sustainable funding settlement is crucial to transforming our ailing social care system.

“Wider use of individual budgets and direct payments heralds a much needed shift towards a more personalised and accessible system.”