MPs have warned the government that it will be guilty of a 'serious dereliction of duty' if it fails to act urgently on the proposals of the Royal Commission on Long-term Care, published in March.

'The current system is mean, inequitable and the quality of care is often inadequate,' the Commons' health select committee concludes in a report issued this week.

The report, which was based on the select committee's examination of three commission members, including chair Sir Stewart Sutherland, says the commission 'admirably fulfilled all the obligations and objectives' set by health secretary Frank Dobson.

It came up with 'a blueprint for action', MPs conclude.

And its report should not be allowed 'to gather dust when care for older people in this country is in desperate need of a radical shake-up'.

Mr Dobson called for further debate on the commission's key proposal for free 'personal' care in elderly people's homes, but continued means- testing for living and accommodation costs.

But the select committee says that the separation of personal care, provided free and funded by general taxation, from means-tested living and housing costs, would introduce 'a long overdue clarity about who pays for what'.

When giving evidence, Sir Stewart declined to go further than the royal commission's call for a single point of delivery and a single budget for the care of elderly people.

But the health committee reiterates its call for the government to consider an integrated health and social care system.

One of the commission's most disturbing findings was the lack of information on spending on long-term care, the committee says.

It calls for an immediate improvement of 'reliable, consistent and universally accepted' data on health and social policy.

The committee also visited a 'smart home' where elderly people can be prepared for using up-to-date technology, and three care homes in Denmark.

It recommends that ministers look closely at the latter for lessons on how Britain's homes might be developed.

But it also says care in elderly people's own homes should be available for as long as possible and calls for the development of 'multi-skilled teams of support workers' on the Danish model to assist the process.

The report also backs the commission's proposal to establish a 'national care commission' to promote preventive care.

Such a body could also advocate the benefits of encouraging qualitative improvement in the lives of elderly people through exercise, constructive leisure pursuits and education, it says.

The Long-term Care of the Elderly. Stationery Office.£6.50.