Published: 20/03/2003, Volume II3, No. 5847 Page 6

The scheme to fine social services departments for delayed discharge is set to be limited to just five years, after the House of Lords savaged a government bill this week.

The third reading of the Community Care (Delayed Discharges) Bill in the upper house on Monday saw opposition peers signal that the government faces an uphill battle if it seeks to overturn a series of amendments made in the upper house.

The 'sunset clause' limiting the legislation's duration to five years and requiring the renewed approval of Parliament if ministers wished to extend it is an unusual move. In his final appearance as junior health minister, Lord Hunt called it 'over the top' and pointed out that sunset clauses usually appear only in acts passed 'because of national emergencies'.

But the Lords voted for the fiveyear limit by 145 votes to 115 - the biggest majority of the day's debate.

Peers also voted by 145 votes to 112 to delay further the introduction of the new scheme until 30 days after incentive systems are introduced within the NHS to discourage inappropriate discharge of patients from hospitals.

Another amendment - pushed through by 15 votes - will exclude weekends and bank holidays from the three days that social services will have to put care packages in place after they are notified of a patient's discharge.