A National Audit Office investigation into NHS Continuing Healthcare (CHC) for patients with significant ongoing healthcare needs has found the number of people receiving CHC funding is rising, and is a significant cost pressure on the spending of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).
NHS England wants CCGs to make £855 million of savings on CHC and NHS-funded nursing care by 2020-21.
In 2015-16, around one-third of assessments took longer than 28 days. Delays can cause considerable distress to patients and their families as they wait for funding decisions, and in some cases have resulted in delays in discharging patients from hospital, the report found.
Commenting, Lib Dem health spokesperson and former health minister Norman Lamb said:
"This report exposes the completely unsustainable growth in demand for Continuing Healthcare under current funding plans for the NHS.
"There are more people than ever before with complex, ongoing health needs, but our ability to pay for this will be increasingly restricted as commissioners grapple with ever-tighter budgets.
"On top of that, there is a deeply worrying postcode lottery in access to Continuing Healthcare, with the result that people in some parts of the country are arbitrarily losing out on vital NHS-funded care.
"Continuing Healthcare throws into sharp relief the cliff-edge between free care in the NHS, if people are assessed as eligible, and means-testing under social care if they are not. The system is crying out for an end to this irrational divide. As a matter of urgency, the Government must commit to a cross-party process to look at how we can ensure that these services are properly funded and integrated in the future."