SOARING costs of caring for thousands of patients with long-term illnesses in Yorkshire are putting severe pressures on NHS budgets.
NHS spending on continuing care for people with long-term conditions including dementia and strokes increased in the region by an average of 10 per cent in 2010-11.
But despite the significant extra resources, there are signs health chiefs are struggling to control costs. Figures compiled by the Yorkshire Post show eight out of 14 primary care trusts (PCTs) in the region will be overspent by March on continuing care services.
The difficulties are prompting growing concerns that access to free care could be curbed as NHS bosses battle the increasing costs of people living longer with chronic ailments and disabilities, at the same time as budgets are cut.
Spending on continuing care is due to rise by more than a fifth in the East Riding, Rotherham and Wakefield in 2010-11 and in Hull by 40 per cent.
Despite a 17 per cent increase in Sheffield, officials report costs have since "increased dramatically". Budgets are likely to be 40 per cent overspent by March, putting severe pressure on the city's PCT which has ordered urgent savings including deferring some non-urgent treatments until April.
The position is worse in Rotherham where continuing healthcare spending is expected to more than double this year to 13.5m, leaving the budget 70 per cent overspent by March. Numbers increased by a quarter between July and September to 361 – nearly double the figure two years ago.
Donna O'Brien, from the charity Parkinson's UK, said: "Across the country we are seeing people with advanced Parkinson's reassessed by officials and being told their need is now a social care, not a healthcare one – leaving them to find huge amounts of money to fund their care costs. This is unacceptable.
"The NHS needs to meet its legal obligations to provide free healthcare, rather than take advantage of people who are often very vulnerable and unable to fight for their rights."
Julia MacLeod, from the Stroke Association in the region, said: "It is encouraging that some local authorities and PCTs in Yorkshire are committing to fund long-term care for stroke survivors, but with local authorities having to cut spending by seven per cent a year, it is equally worrying that existing services for stroke survivors, paid for by local authorities and PCTs, may be under threat."
She said it was crucial stroke care continued after patients left hospital.
Health chiefs say increasing demands from an ageing population and wider eligibility for continuing care have driven cost increases.
Officials in Rotherham said most PCTs were seeing a "significant increase" in demand.
"Each year we set a budget but it is difficult to predict demand or the complexities of care required by the population, therefore we always accept that actual costs may well be higher than the budget set," said a spokeswoman.
In Sheffield, managers say cost increases are being driven by "unprecedented demand and more complex packages of care".
NHS Sheffield's chief nurse Penny Brooks-Cordon said: "Care packages are managed carefully by NHS Sheffield to ensure that appropriate levels of support are provided and that patients remain eligible for continuing healthcare."
A Department of Health spokesman said there was a national system for determining eligibility for continuing healthcare and PCTs must make decisions according to the framework "regardless of location, diagnosis or personal circumstances".
The Government was committed to improving NHS services despite the tough economic climate.