Patient charges for overnight stays slated

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CONCERNS have been voiced about the “unthinkable” prospect of Wigan patients being charged “bed and board” fees for hospital stays.

If funding for the health service does not match increasing demand, care providers may be forced to make such “tough choices” an expert said last week.

Sir Ian McCartney, chair of Wigan’s Healthwatch, an independent action group for patients, told the Evening Post that even at a speculative stage, any such proposals would raise serious reservations. He said: “As far as we are concerned this is unthinkable.

“The costs for a family of having a loved one in hospital can be very high.

“Transport and parking costs as well as the potential of paying extra to eat out because you are visiting a relative not at home cooking, even hotel costs if your family don’t live near – it can soon add up for a short stay, and become un-affordable for longer stays in hospital.

“This proposal would be nothing short of a bed and breakfast tax by the NHS and Healthwatch will fight tooth and nail to oppose such an unthinkable plan.”

Sir Ian added that the principle of charging for accommodation is found in the new Care Act 2014 which “allows for a proportion of the fees for a care provider to be classed as so called ‘hotel costs’ and is capped at around £30 per day.”

Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS commissioners and providers, said: “If the NHS cannot afford to fund everything, then it will need to make tough choices about what it does fund.

“Do we think about increasing our tolerance for longer wait (for care), or do we say, ‘NHS funding is only for the health aspects of care and treatment’, which means patients being asked to cover their hotel costs for bed and board?” Fees of up to £75 a night have been suggested.

A Department of Health spokesman denied any plans were in place to charge for hospital stays. A statement read: “The NHS will remain free at the point of use.

“We know that with an ageing population there’s more pressure on the NHS, which is why we’ve increased the budget by £12.7bn over this parliament and are investing in community services to keep people living healthier at home for longer.”

Health services in the borough are already facing a significant shake-up under the Healthier Together proposals said to be the biggest change in a generation.