Published: 19/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5823 Page 6

The government is set to face concerted opposition by local authorities to its proposed system of 'fines' for delayed discharges.

The Local Government Association has declared that it is 'firmly opposed' to the policy, and social affairs and health chair Alison King said it would take the fight 'as far as it goes'.

Ms King said that within LGA there was a 'solid, absolutely solid' cross-party opposition to the controversial reimbursement scheme, under which social services departments would have to pay£100 a day if they were responsible for the delayed discharge of elderly people from hospital.

Ms King said: 'It is going to cost my authority, Norfolk county council, about£600,000 a year that we haven't got. But We have got a very good record for avoiding delayed discharges.'

Consultation on the scheme closed yesterday (18 September) with key players the Association of Directors of Social Services and the NHS Confederation criticising the proposals and calling for changes.

But LGA's response to the consultation took a harder line, arguing that the policy rests on 'a flawed analysis' of the problem.

Its response said: 'The government is now embarking on an ill-conceived and deeply unpopular policy, which may not deliver the expected impact on waiting lists.'

The LGA response argued that delayed discharges do not have a 'determining effect on waiting lists' because they affect medical rather than surgical beds.

The LGA also 'flatly rejects' suggestions that the main problems are 'attitudinal' and result from a 'lack of will or commitment on the part of local authorities'.

It said the fundamental problem is 'the historic shortfall of investment into the whole system'.

The response also pointed to modelling carried out by LGA, ADSS and the NHS Confederation showing that sustainable reductions are more likely to require investment in other areas of the system, such as reducing unplanned admissions.

Ms King commented: 'While delayed discharge figures are now down, figures show the number of emergency readmissions is going up. They are sending people home too soon.'

The plan to allow social services to charge hospitals where this happens was 'crazy', she said.

'It is just going round in circles. It just creates a huge bureaucratic mess.'