The government's draft guidance on implementing free nursing care for people in nursing homes in England has been branded 'unfair and unworkable' amid warnings that nurses may not be 'willing to accept' their role in the process.

Royal College of Nursing gerontological programme director Pauline Ford said: 'What's funded is action by a registered nurse. It becomes means-tested at the moment the nurse delegates tasks to a healthcare assistant.' This would put nurses in 'a difficult position'. She warned: 'We are not sure the profession is willing to accept this role as it contradicts the basis on which nurses practise.'

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow MP said:

'We already knew the government's plans were unfair. Now we know they will be unworkable. It is wrong that care provided by a registered nurse will be free, but the same care provided by a care assistant will be charged for.'

Age Concern England director general Gordon Lishman criticised the proposal for nursing home residents to be assessed and placed in a 'band of weekly care need' worth£35,£70 or£110.He warned of the risk of 'pressure on nurses to push people into a lower band or to operate a waiting system'.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'We are establishing consistency with the nursing care provided by the NHS in residential homes and people's own homes. In these settings the care provided by a registered nurse is provided free by the NHS and the care provided by care assistants can be charged for.'