The chair of the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care is to meet health secretary Alan Milburn to press for an urgent answer to its call for free personal care for elderly people.

Giving a lecture to the Carers National Association, Sir Stewart Sutherland said he was concerned at the government's 'delay' in responding to the proposals, published in March, which would cost an estimated£1bn.

But he was confident that prime minister Tony Blair was not behind the 'kite-flying' of 'minuscule and incremental' responses to its findings, published as 'leaks' in the press.

Sir Stewart said Mr Blair told the Labour Party conference last year that he did not want pensioners to have to sell their homes to pay for care.

But 'other sources' in Whitehall were 'giving every sign of wanting to shuffle off proper consideration' of the proposals.

Sir Stewart told HSJ : 'Minimalism will not do. It will make people angry; these comments are merely retracing all the lines of argument we went down.'

In his lecture, Sir Stewart said the call for free care of elderly people in hospitals, at home or in nursing or residential care was 'long-term, principled and practical'.

Suggestions of smaller changes such as raising the threshold on means tested help or delaying the forced sale of people's homes to fund care were not.

An increase in inheritance tax or a share of tobacco taxes could pay for all the proposals, he added.

Sir Stewart predicted a 'democratic time bomb' of anger at lack of action in funding care for elderly people.

A growing population of pensioners - now more than 10 million strong - was suffering from a 'dangerous mixture of frustration and expectation'.

'My information is that the minister of health in Scotland has a post bag that is two-thirds full on this issue.'

Sir Stewart called on other UK pensioners to 'contact their own ministers'. The current system was unjust and had to be reformed urgently, he added.

Managers' and nurses' leaders backed Sir Stewart. NHS Confederation policy manager Janice Miles said: 'We have been crying out for a government response.'

Solving the problem of cash for elderly people's care was even more urgent after the 'Coughlan case' in which the Appeal Court ruled that health authorities should pick up at least part of the bill for long-term nursing care.

But extra funding would be needed to make it work, Ms Miles said. 'If the recommendations of the royal commission are accepted by the government, then the NHS cannot cope without significant new funds.'

The Royal College of Nursing branded the government's delays 'unacceptable'. A spokesperson said:

'The current system is not just unfair and non-patient focused, it's also inefficient, and so it's in no-one's interests to continue with the status quo.

'The royal commission, along with ourselves and many others, has put forward a whole host of creative and sensible ideas for improving the longterm care system, including the additional suggestions in Sir Stewart's lecture. The government has to pick up the baton.'

Leader of the House of Commons Margaret Beckett said earlier this month that the government would respond to the royal commission before Christmas.

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