Senior backbench Conservative MP Christopher Chope, supported by fellow MPs Peter Bone and Edward Leigh have published a short Private Members Bill which seeks to make an amendment to the National Health Service Act 2006 to permit co-funding of NHS commissioned care.
It is unclear whether this Bill has any chance of becoming law. However, if it did, it would permit co-funding for NHS patients. This could not, of itself, permit charges to be levied for NHS services in any circumstance where such charges are not presently permitted by Regulations.
It would, however, permit patients who are entitled to NHS Continuing Healthcare to “co-fund” the cost of their care at a care home of their choice. Hence, by way of example, if the NHS could commission a suitable placement for a patient at a care home for £800 per week but the patient’s preferred home cost £1000 per week, this Bill will enable the NHS to offer £800 per week towards the cost of the care home.
This is, in broad terms, the position in social care where arrangements under the Care Act 2014 permit co-funding. The policy objections which permit co-funding for social care but prohibit co-funding for long-term NHS care in the community have never been entirely clear.
This Bill would also clarify that co-funding is permissible in acute care. Hence, by way of example, a patient would be entitled to fund cancer drugs for themselves where the availability of such drugs was not included as part of NHS commissioned care. This is already possible under NHS Guidance, albeit somewhat difficult to deliver practice.
It will be interesting to see whether this Bill attracts tacit support from the Department of Health and Social Care. That is likely to depend on whether this Bill’s overall effect will increase or decrease NHS costs. At present, a patient in the example set out above could not look to the NHS to make any contribution to the cost of more expensive care home. Whilst that may appear inequitable, in practice it saves NHS commissioners considerable amounts of money.
Accordingly, it is possible that the Department will oppose the potential benefits for wealthy patients represented by this Bill because of the overall costs to the NHS. Alternatively, the Department may support this liberalisation because it will allow co-funding thus move to a situation where the NHS only makes a contribution towards the cost of a significant number of care home placements by only offering to commission care at the cost of at a lower-priced (and perhaps mythical) care home.