Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham will today propose that the means test for end-of-life social care should be abolished.
Burnham, who is involved in cross-party talks on the reform of social care, will say at a Unison health conference that all terminally-ill patients should be given the option of leaving hospital and receiving free care at home. Burnham will say that he has tabled the proposal as part of the cross-party talks.
A Labour Party statement says the move should be “paid for by moving resources out of hospitals and into communities.” The care would be provided by the NHS, it says.
The statement says the means test for social care “creates a perverse incentive for people to opt to die in hospital even if they would prefer to remain at home.” It says this “can end up costing far more than providing end-of-life care in the home.”
A spokesman for Burnham said it was not yet clear whether councils would also have to contribute towards the cost of the proposed system. “Some funding may be transferred from local authorities, but the details would be worked out depending on how the government responds to the overall proposal,” he said.
The removal of the means test was recommended in an independent report by the Palliative Care Funding Review, which was published in July 2011.
The report says the measure, combined with the provision of regular assessments of patients’ needs and of coordinators to signpost patients to all appropriate services, “could be cost neutral to the state”. Applying the recommendations to adults would cost about £411m, while hospital admissions for adults in the last year of their life costs the NHS about £1.3bn.
The report says the NHS should fund “all the clinically assessed palliative care needs of a patient irrespective of setting”.
It says: “Savings could potentially be achieved on these hospital costs in the last year of life, which would free up resources to provide palliative care and care in the community.”
It says the measures could reduce deaths in hospital by up to 60,000 a year by 2021, which could cut hospital costs by £180m per year.
Sarah Pickup, president of the Association of Directors of Adult social services, told LGC she “cautiously welcomed” the proposals. “In principle it seems wrong that people have to worry about charging at the end of their life,” she said. “Removing the means test may be a valuable thing, but there are other valuable things too, and we should be looking at a whole package of social care reforms rather than picking out certain groups.”