Published: 13/05/2004, Volume II4, No. 5905 Page 9

Elderly mental health patients have been left languishing in acute hospital beds because the sector was left out of the government's scheme of fines for delayed discharges, it has been claimed.

The reimbursement policy introduced in January only covers patients with physical illnesses.

But South Essex Partnership trust chief executive Patrick Geoghegan told HSJ that the effect has been 'catastrophic' because local authorities have prioritised patients who come under the policy - at the expense of elderly mental health patients.

Mr Geoghegan, who remains a supporter of the principles behind the policy, said: 'You have to look at it from the point of view of local authorities. If there are two patients you need to support on discharge and one of them means you are going to be paying fines if you do not sort it out, then obviously you make sure they get the care you need.'

He added: 'This is leaving elderly patients in acute wards - that is simply not good for the care they need. In fact It is catastrophic.'

He also alleged that the Department of Health has not collected the data required to understand the scale of problem, but said that trusts have the necessary information.

Health minister Rosie Winterton told delegates at the National Mental Health Partnership conference: 'I think there is certainly the idea that there will be expansion of the patients covered. But it is important to first assess the scheme so that lessons can be learnt about how it has worked, to make sure it doesn't overburden the local authorities. These are the areas we will be looking at.'