The Scottish government is facing calls to review its policy offering free personal care to people in their own homes after the cost of the scheme rose by 157 per cent in the last seven years.
The Free Personal and Nursing Care policy (FPNC) cost more than £342 million in 2010/11, compared to £133 million during its first year (2003/04), figures from the Information Services Division of NHS National Services Scotland showed.
The Scottish government attributed the rise to the increasing proportion of older people that are being cared for at home, rather than in hospital and care homes. Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the figures reflected ministers' commitment to shifting the balance of care from acute to primary settings.
'We are fully committed to the funding of free personal care for the elderly, a service greatly valued by the people of Scotland,' she added.
Age Scotland campaigns manager Lindsay Scott said FPNC had 'a proven track record' in delaying and avoiding the need for older people to be admitted to hospitals and care homes, helping support them to live where they want to be.
'As our ageing population increases, so has the cost of FPNC, but it should be noted that the average cost of FPNC per individual is around £5,000 a year, compared with the £25,000 plus to look after someone in a care home.
'FPNC is a key pillar of preventative spending, and the priority for the government should not be to cut a core service that is demonstrating real impact in improving the lives of older people, but to take action to mitigate the increasing costs of delayed discharge and unexpected admissions to hospital, which cost the state around £1.5bn every year.'
But Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Jackson Carlaw, said the government was 'kidding everyone on' that such policies were affordable.
'If the SNP wants to continue funding free personal care, then it has to be far less casual in extending other entitlements and refusing to find ways to make them more sustainable,' he said.
Around 47,000 people in Scotland now receive help in their own homes, compared to 33,000 when the policy was introduced.