A MAJOR conference is poised to debate who foots the bill for the care of the long-term sick in East Lancashire.

The event will discuss how far the NHS should be responsible for meeting the continuing care needs of the elderly, dependent and long-term sick.

It is the start of three months of public consultation to pinpoint who should pay for the long-term care of the elderly, old people with mental illness, dementia sufferers, children and young people needing care as a result of illness, accident, or physical disability.

A posse of health chiefs will attend the half-day conference, Who Fits the Bill: Who Foots the Bill? Does the Community Care? at the Dunkenhalgh Hotel on Wednesday, which is being hosted by East Lancashire Health Authority. Social services and health bosses will examine where the boundary lies between health and social care and probe who should be eligible for state-funded long-term health care in East Lancashire.

The conference will also focus on whose needs may be best met by social services and how to ensure there are no "gaps" between health and social services. The health authority is responding to Government guidelines about continuing care and who should be responsible for what. Health authorities and social services departments are responsible for interpreting the guidelines and establishing a local criteria.

More than 400 people from a wide variety of organisations are expected at the conference. They include doctors, nurses, district councillors, charities and carers. Delegates will be welcomed by Sir Donald Wilson, chairman of North West Regional Health Authority. The speakers will include Richard Crail, chief executive of East Lancashire Health Authority.

The health authority is keen to gather as many views as possible about the issue of continuing care and has set up a free telephone hotline. Anyone with views can call 0800 665544 from October 11 to 25.

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