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Home health checks plan for elderly

Vulnerable elderly people in England could be offered safety checks to identify health risks in their homes, under a Labour plan to cut the cost of unnecessary admissions to hospitals.

The scheme forms part of a 10-Year Plan for the NHS being unveiled by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, which also features 5,000 new "homecare workers" to help people leaving hospital and enable the terminally-ill to die at home, as well as changes to social care budgets to end the culture of 15-minute visits to frail and isolated older people.

Labour leader Ed Miliband will warn that "the future of the NHS is at stake" in the May 7 general election, with victory for the Conservatives threatening to usher in changes which would leave the service "unrecognisable".

He will accuse the Government of allowing pressure to build up on NHS hospitals by failing to ensure that elderly people get the care they need at home, patients can get appointments with their GPs and mental health problems are spotted early.

In a speech in Trafford, Manchester, where the first NHS hospital was opened in 1948, Mr Miliband will say: "One of our country's most precious institution faces its most perilous moment in a generation. The future of our NHS is at stake in this general election."

Mr Miliband will say that no country has run a world-class healthcare service on the levels of public spending envisaged by David Cameron following the election.

And he will say: "When you look at his record for the last five years and his plan for the next five years, you know David Cameron can't be trusted with our NHS. He puts the wrong values at the heart of our NHS and he just won't put the right resources into our NHS.

"That means you will wait longer and longer for care, forced to go private if you want timely treatment, with more and more services hived off to the private sector."

Labour's 10-year plan focuses on previously-announced promises to invest an additional £2.5 billion in the NHS, recruiting 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 GPs and guaranteeing GP appointments within 48 hours and cancer tests within a week.

Mr Burnham will set out plans to join up the NHS with social care, warning that "false economies" in social care have helped drive up the number of avoidable hospital admissions to a record 500,000 last year, at a cost to the health service of around £1 billion.

With one in 10 over-75s and one in five over-90s experiencing avoidable hospital admissions last year, Labour said its new safety checks would help older people keep out of hospital, for instance by providing grab rails at a cost of £50, compared to £14,000 to treat a hip fracture following a fall. Energy checks for pensioners in fuel poverty would be designed to cut hospital admissions for cold-related illness, which have risen by 10% since 2010.

Homecare workers would be tasked with helping those with the greatest need, including those leaving hospital who need assistance to move back into their homes and terminally ill patients who want to spend their last days at home with their families.

Meanwhile, Labour promised action to end the trend towards 15-minute home care visits for vulnerable people, which a recent survey suggested are now being commissioned by three-quarters of councils. Labour said that the brief visits force care workers - often on zero-hour contracts - to choose between helping a patient to the toilet or preparing a meal and result in more people being admitted to hospital because they cannot cope at home.

New "year of care" budgets will provide financial incentives to end 15-minute visits, while Labour would ban exploitative zero-hours contracts for more than 300,000 care workers, Mr Burnham will say.

Launching the plan in London, Mr Burnham will say: "We need an NHS that sees not just the immediate problem but treats the whole person. Our aspiration is to create a service that supports people with dementia, autism and mental ill health as well as it treats cancer.

"I have long warned that, if social care in England is allowed to collapse, it will drag down the rest of the NHS. That is what is unfolding before us in the NHS right now and is a root cause of the crisis in A&E.

"For the want of spending a few pounds in people's homes on decent home care, we are spending thousands of pounds keeping older people in hospital even when they are able to leave. This is not sustainable in human or financial terms.

"The increasing hospitalisation of older people is no vision for the ageing society."

Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb MP said: " Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver the stronger economy and fairer society needed to protect the future of the NHS. Labour want to airbrush their record in government but the facts speak for themselves: a quarter of a billion pounds spent on sweetheart deals with private providers and PFI deals that will cost us all £11.7bn in the next Parliament alone.

"It is also thanks to the Liberal Democrats that it is now written into law that the NHS has to treat mental health as seriously as physical health. From April we start correcting the extraordinary decision by the Labour government to leave out mental health when they introduced maximum waiting time limits to the NHS. New waiting time standards will be introduced for the first time in mental health, and we would invest an extra £500m in mental health services after the election.

"The Liberal Democrats have set out our plans to increase NHS spending by £8bn per year by 2020, and explained how we will pay for it. Labour have failed to match this promise of investment. On the other hand the Conservatives have also failed to commit to this investment and their plan to balance the deficit through nothing but cuts will risk our public services."

A poll by ComRes for the Independent suggested the NHS was deemed a higher priority for voters than the economy.

Of 1,001 adults surveyed by phone last weekend, three in five, or 59%, said policy on the NHS would influence their voting decision more than economic policy, while so me 34% said the economy was more important to them than health policy.

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