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Council and NHS row hits care for Birmingham's disabled

17th November 2008

Severely handicapped adults are being denied social services care following a dispute between Birmingham City Council and the NHS over who should foot the bill for looking after some of the most vulnerable people in society.

The council has admitted rationing the help it is prepared to offer as its Learning Disability Service budget soars £14 million into the red.

Talks between council Strategic Director for Adults and Communities, Peter Hay, and managers from the three Birmingham Primary Care Trusts have been taking place for more than a year, with no agreement so far about how £1,000-a-week care packages for the most severely disabled people could be shared more fairly between local government and the NHS.

The number of adults with severe learning disabilities and requiring social services care rose by more than 20 per cent last year as advances in medical science meant that people who in the past would not have lived into adulthood are now regularly doing so.

The scale of the problem was revealed by social care scrutiny committee chairman Len Clark, who said the council would face “astronomical” costs if it was to respond fully to demand for services.

The care budget is already on course to be over-spent by £12 million, but Coun Clark said the figure would rise to £14 million.

Coun Clark (Con Quinton) said: “We are controlling demand at the moment by not allowing people access to some services.

“But this position will be subject to legal challenge, and that will cost the council money.”

He said discussions with the Primary Care Trusts were not proceeding as quickly as the council wished.

“They have a statutory obligation and one would hope they recognise that sooner rather than later,” he added.

He said the council sometimes had to pick up the cost of looking after people discharged from hospital with only a short time left to live.

In one instance the care bill for a man “who was dying in a matter of weeks” amounted to £30,000 for a month.

Problems are particularly acute in south Birmingham, where the care of disabled adults has recently been transferred from the primary care trust to the council. But the trust has not yet agreed how much it should contribute toward the future care of the transferees, Coun Clark said.

He added: “The council is not in a position to bear the full cost of meeting the demand for services from people with learning disabilities.

“It is a complex matter and solutions aren’t going to be easily found or be cheap to implement.”

Three years ago, the council spent £45 million on care packages for about 1,300 adults with learning disabilities. The budgeted figure for this year is £51 million for 1,600 people.

Andrew Donald, Chief Operating Officer at Birmingham East and North Primary Care Trust, said: “We are having positive and constructive discussions with Adults and Communities and are confident we will resolve any issues.”

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