Warning over chiropody services 'postcode lottery'

MARK NICHOLLS More than 2m older people are being left housebound and disabled because of a lack of footcare, a leading charity warns today.

MARK NICHOLLS

More than 2m older people are being left housebound and disabled because of a lack of footcare, a leading charity warns today.

Age Concern say chiropody services on the NHS are often a postcode lottery, leaving many people to either put up with painful foot and toenail problems - or pay privately for treatment.

The alternative - which affects many of the poorest and most vulnerable older people - is to lose independence and suffer deterioration of their physical and mental health.

Age Concern Norfolk last night called for "timely and accessible" footcare to be available through the NHS to all who need it.

Linda Gill, information and advice manager for Age Concern Norfolk, said: "There is no widescale footcare in Norfolk provided by the NHS/GP surgeries There may be some chiropody provided for people with specific medical complaints, but even this is patchy and may entail travelling miles to a designated clinic.

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"The impact of the lack of footcare cannot be underestimated, not only can it cause great discomfort and distress, it can impede mobility and cause deteriorating physical and mental health.

"Age Concern Norfolk would like to see footcare back where it belongs, a service from the NHS which is timely and accessible."

The charity is launching a major national campaign called Feet for Purpose, aiming to ensure older people who need footcare can receive it without the need to pay.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said: "Foot care services are failing older people, and a postcode lottery is leaving those in some areas without any services at all. Footcare services should be free and universally available to those who need them - yet increasingly in many parts of England they are being restricted or withdrawn."

The charity, which says NHS chiropody services have been rationed over the last decade, called on the Department of Health to take a lead in resolving the problem and include chiropody in the NHS maximum waiting time target of 18 weeks.

In Norfolk, podiatry services have been hit by staff shortages particularly in the west of the county, but the service is also being reviewed as part of the turnaround plan drawn up by the PCT as it endeavours to cut a £46m deficit.

Norfolk PCT say that podiatry services for older people are currently provided within hospital settings, clinics and community services. A spokesman said: "In west Norfolk patients are referred to the service by a healthcare professional. The rest of Norfolk patients have the option to self refer for some services and are triaged according to their condition. The PCT recognises the need for a consistent and equitable service for all patients."

Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT say demand for podiatry services are high but stress that people with significant risk factors that may lead to complications are given a higher priority. People can apply direct to the service for treatment, by completing an application form from local clinic receptions and GPs.

A PCT spokesman said: "On receipt, application forms are screened by a podiatrist. If, after screening, a patient is considered eligible for treatment they are sent an appointment for assessment."

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