With a loved one living in a residential or nursing home will probably be familiar with the concept of top-up fees. These are third-party payments which bridge the gap between the cost of care home fees and the amount the local authority is willing to pay. They are so common that the charity Independent Age calls them a “secret subsidy” propping up the residential care system. So you may not be surprised if a social or healthcare professional asks you for an NHS Continuing Healthcare “top-up” to help meet the costs of care. But here are some things you should know before you agree.
There is no such thing as an NHS Continuing Healthcare “top-up”
While the legislation governing local authority social care expressly provides for “topping up” care fees (though only in specific circumstances), the NHS are not permitted to ask for an NHS Continuing Healthcare “top-up” for assessed needs. The only way you can “top up” an NHS Continuing Healthcare package is if you choose to pay for additional private services. These are over and above services to meet your full needs as set out in your care plan. They should be provided by different staff and preferably in a different setting, though there should be liaison where necessary to ensure continuity of care.
What do the rules on NHS Continuing Healthcare say about covering the cost of care?
The National Framework says the funding package should be sufficient to meet all needs in the care plan. The CCG should base this on its knowledge of the local costs of services for those needs. It is also important that the models of support and the provider used are appropriate to the individual’s needs. And they should have the confidence of the person receiving the services.
So why is one in five recipients paying an NHS Continuing Healthcare top-up?
Yes that’s right – one in five. According to Continuing to Care?, a major report released before Christmas by the Continuing Healthcare Alliance, almost 20% of those awarded NHS Continuing Healthcare said the funding did not cover the full costs of their care, resulting in them having to pay “top-up” fees. This fits in with what we are hearing from clients here at Just Caring Legal.
Could social workers be blurring the lines between local authority and NHS Continuing Healthcare “top-ups”?
We are hearing of an increasing number of cases in which social workers are taking the main role in dealing with NHS Continuing Healthcare cases. Could this be blurring the lines between NHS and local authority funding? It can be difficult for those applying for NHS Continuing Healthcare to understand the different rules that apply to each, around areas such as top-up fees. It is right that social workers play a vital role in NHS Continuing Healthcare cases as part of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals assessing care needs. But once eligibility is established for NHS Continuing Healthcare, like all NHS care it is designed to be free at the point of use.
This is one of the founding principles of our NHS and its constitution: that it should provide a comprehensive service, available to all based on clinical need – not on the ability to pay.