Cap pledge for elderly care costs

A £72,000 cap on elderly care costs and new legal rights for carers has been promised in the Queen's Speech.

Tougher checks on hospitals, including an Ofsted-style rating system, on the back of the inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal are also being brought forward under the Care Bill.

The measures are part of a package that ministers say will join up health and social care to boost protections for patients and simplify the system.

Care cost reforms were left out of a draft Bill published by the coalition last year, sparking fears the plans would be kicked into the long grass, but earlier this year the Government announced it would introduce a £75,000 limit on bills in England.

A month later in the Budget, plans were announced to accelerate the introduction of the cap, bringing it in at a level of £72,000 in 2016 - a year earlier than originally intended.

The limit is more than double the £35,000 recommended by the independent Dilnot Commission in 2011 but the Government said today it would "give everyone peace of mind by protecting them from catastrophic costs".

Under the Bill, the threshold for financial assistance will be extended. It was originally expected to go up from £23,250 to £123,000 but under the Budget revisions will be set at £118,000 in 2016.

Ministers believe certainty about the maximum bill people could face will allow everyone to buy insurance to protect them against the possibility of care costs.

In a joint introduction to the speech Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "If you have contributed all your life, you should be rewarded in retirement. So we will introduce a Bill to cap social care costs, meaning that pensioners do not have to sell their homes to fund care."

The Bill includes a number of measures in response to the Robert Francis inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which found as many as 1,200 patients could have died after they were ''routinely neglected''. It will enshrine proposals outlined by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in March to give a new chief inspector of hospitals, a so-called ''whistleblower-in-chief'', powers to shine the spotlight on failing trusts.

An Ofsted-style ratings system - where hospitals and care homes will be ranked on their performance - will be introduced and it will become a criminal offence to provide false or misleading figures about how well they are doing.

Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "The priority is fixing the financial crisis engulfing adult social care. Local authorities are facing an estimated £2.7 billion reduction in funding to provide support for vulnerable residents. The stark reality is that if such vast sums of money continue to be taken out of the care system, it could be in very real danger of collapse."

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