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COMMONS: Hansard 21 July: column 114 et seq ...
COMMONS: Hansard 21 July: column 114 et seq

Devon CC and Torbay Council were accused in the Commons of deliberately keeping elderly people in NHS hospitals in order to keep down the level of council tax.

Anthony Steen, Conservative MP for Totnes, speaking in the summer adjournment debate for back-benchers, said: 'Bed-blocking is a scurrilous practice that comes about because of bickering between the health authority and local authority social services departments - regardless of what is best for the patient. Some elderly people in South Hams and Torbay are occupying beds in hospitals which they should not be occupying. Often, they are well enough to be moved and should be in residential and nursing homes, which are not full. The phenomenon know as bed-blocking is an absolute disgrace. It uses scarce NHS resources and causes stress to patients, and a deterioration in their health following treatment'.

Mr Steen said it cost between£500 to£1,000 a week to provide a bed in a cottage hospital, and between£1,500 and£2,000 a week to keep an elderly person in a district or general hospital. The moment the patient was discharged from hospital, the responsibility for and the cost of care shifted to the local authority.

He added: 'It does not take much intelligence to work out that, given that social services are prepared to pay just in excess of£200 a week for care in a residential home and just over£300 a week for care in a nursing home...the local authority is placing an enormous and avoidable burden on the taxpayer. Refusal to place patients in residential homes at the appropriate time increases the cost of care almost fourfold.

Mr Steen continued: 'That is one of the worst examples of financial mismanagement and complete disregard of the welfare of the individual that I have come across. Just by chance, the two local authorities in my constituency - Devon CC and Torbay unitary authority - are Liberal Democrat-controlled. I therefore have the misfortune of having two Liberal Democrat social services departments, which are manipulating the elderly in order to save on council tax'.

He said that if social services continued such practices, it would be appropriate for the health authorities to contract services directly to the private sector to keep costs down. 'I cannot understand why the local cottage hospital cannot enter into private contracts with local residential and nursing homes, and thereby bypass social services departments completely'.

Replying to the back-benchers' debate, Cabinet Office minister Paddy Tipping declared: 'He is right to highlight the fact that a Berlin wall somestimes still exists between health authorities and local authority social services departments. This is a real problem. We need to do better.

'Measures are in train to try to break down that wall. Patients should be the central concern. People should not be passed around like parcels. Money should not be the motivating force'.

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