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On the day free long-term care for the elderly became a reality in Scotland, Unison called for an end to the 'confu...
On the day free long-term care for the elderly became a reality in Scotland, Unison called for an end to the 'confusing and unfair' arrangement in the rest of the UK which sees elderly ill people pay for so-called 'personal care' while receiving free nursing care.

The union is urging the government to follow the lead of the Scottish Executive by extending free personal care to the rest of the UK, ending means testing, and lifting the financial burden on families.

The average cost of nursing home care is£393 a week. A significant element is the cost of personal care, which includes help with washing, feeding, dressing and going to the toilet.

Outside of Scotland, those with capital/assets over£18,500 must pay all their personal care costs. Those with between£18,500 and£11,500 pay a share and only those with less than£11,500 receive personal care totally free.

In 1999, the Royal Commission on Long Term Care called for long-term care to be free at the point of use and funded from general taxation.

The government responded by providing free nursing care from 1 October 2001, but refused to do the same with personal care.

'Unison applauds the decision of the Scottish Executive, which comes into force today,' said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis, asking why older people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland 'are not entitled to be treated with the same dignity and respect as their counterparts in Scotland?'

Pointing out that parents are not means-tested and charged 'for sending their children to a state school', he added that 'long-term care should be provided equally to all, like other public services'.

A policy seminar in central London hosted by the Unison-initiated Right to Care campaign, heard many speakers attack the distinction between nursing and personal care as a false one which merely encouraged the NHS and local authority social services departments to argue about definitions rather than needs.

The seminar heard from Barbara Pointon, whose husband has advanced Alzheimer's disease and needs constant care - including help with eating, dressing, washing and visits to the toilet - provided by herself and a full-time carer.

She pointed out that her husband is 'an NHS patient being nursed at home' - but three times the NHS had ruled the 24-hour, seven-day care he needs is personal or social care, which should be means-tested and paid for.

'This situation is unfair, confusing, and discriminates against the elderly and disabled,' said Mr Prentis. 'A dangerous precedent is being set by narrowing the consensus of what constitutes universal free health care.'

And the British public agrees. A Unison MORI poll found that 84% believed the government should make personal care free. Even when told that the cost could be£1bn, 81% still supported free personal care.

In a poll for the BBC's NHS Day, free personal care also topped the list of priorities for viewers.

'I urge the Blair government to listen to them,' said Mr Prentis.

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