Published: 22/08/2002, Volume II2, No. 5819 Page 4

Fining social services departments for delayed discharges from hospital is 'a final sanction' that could be avoided if the NHS and social services departments act now to put alternative services in place, chief social services inspector Denise Platt has said.

The cross-charging mechanism - dubbed 'reimbursement' by the Department of Health - is set to be introduced in a legislative package that will also make intermediate care free by removing local authorities' power to charge for it.

Ms Platt told HSJ that the reimbursement scheme should be seen in the context of the social services settlement, with its funds for developing care services and the plans to make intermediate care free, whether it is delivered in an NHS or social services facility.

The scheme has sparked controversy among both NHS and social care organisations, with concerns about taking money from already cash-strapped social services to give to acute trusts. But Ms Platt played down the prospect of huge use of the fining system.

She described the scheme as 'our final sanction to solve the problem of elderly people being discriminated against by being in hospital beds when they do not need to be'.

Ms Platt urged immediate action by the NHS and social services. She said that if 'maximum use' was made of the various mechanisms already in place to support joint health and social care working, social services 'will not be in the position where they will be reimbursing hospitals for people in beds'.