Sunday, 3 August 2008

Blind, immobilised, diabetic - but the NHS doesn't care

Eileen Puc has lived in a nursing home in Cardiff for the past three years after a stroke - her second - left her immobile, doubly incontinent, and only able to eat puréed food. Eileen has severe diabetes and needs four insulin injections a day. She is also registered blind. Her family is fighting to prove that she has 'health needs' to qualify for fully funded NHS continuing care to cover the £1,825 that the home charges every month.

'My question is: how ill do you have to be to qualify for NHS funding?' asks her 58-year-old brother-in-law, Vivien Roberts. 'We don't know the answer to that. If Eileen doesn't qualify, you're left thinking: who would?'

Following an admission to the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend in June 2005, the family was told that Eileen could not go home because she needed 24-hour nursing care and that, because of her savings, she would have to pay her own way. Her husband of 55 years, Ivan, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease six years ago and has moved into Eileen's nursing home, where they share a room.

As of this month, Eileen has paid £61,000 in nursing home fees and the couple have been forced to sell their Bridgend house for £150,000 to fund it.

The family argue that her costs should have been covered by the NHS from the first day. In 2006, they asked Cardiff local health board to determine eligibility for funding. It said that she wasn't eligible, despite characterising her condition as 'unpredictable, unstable, complex and presenting risk of harm'.

That decision went to the board's appeal panel, which ruled that, although Eileen had unstable blood sugar and was, consequently, dependent on nursing staff, the NHS wasn't responsible for her care fees. A complaint was then made to Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, who described the decision as 'seriously flawed'.

'If nursing homes did not exist, the only place where the couple would be is the hospital,' says Vivien. He and his wife make the 50-mile round trip to see Eileen and Ivan at Nazareth nursing home in Cardiff every week. He points out that Ivan, who is 86 years old, also has serious health needs. 'They both worked all their lives and paid taxes and yet the NHS isn't there for them when they most need it,' he says. He believes his sister-in-law's health condition is clearly worse than those of people who have previously persuaded the courts in test cases of their needs.

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