Part 1. Explaining The Vital Difference Between Social Needs vs Healthcare Needs

Part 1. Explaining The Vital Difference Between Social Needs vs Healthcare Needs

If your relative has a pending assessment or review for NHS Continuing Healthcare Funding, then you must read this article.

Many families undergoing an assessment to see whether their spouse or relative is eligible for NHS Continuing Healthcare Funding (or ‘CHC’) are often left bewildered when they learn that they did not meet the eligibility criteria for CHC, or are astounded and outraged when their existing funding is withdrawn.

In many cases, families will be left distraught and frustrated by the whole challenging process, but much of this anguish could have been avoided had they clearly understood the critical difference between social needs and healthcare needs.

What is NHS Continuing Healthcare Funding?

‘CHC’ as it is commonly known by professionals, is a package of services which is arranged and funded by the NHS through its local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) for individuals who have complex ongoing ‘primary health care needs’. More about this later…

The National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare and NHS-funded Nursing Care (revised October 2018) states that health care needs relate to the “treatment, control, management or prevention of a disease, illness, injury or disability, and the care or after-care of a person with these needs (whether or not to the tasks involved have to be carried out by a health professional)“.

Important points you must know about CHC:

1.CHC is available if you are over 18 to meet needs that have arisen as a result of a disability, accident or illness.

2.CHC is not dependent on having a particular illness, diagnosis, condition or disease.

3.CHC is ‘free at the point of delivery’ i.e. when you need it as stated in paragraph 35 on page 14 of the National Framework.

4.CHC covers 100% of the care fees payable, regardless of the individual’s wealth, savings and assets. CHC is free!

5.CHC is payable regardless of who provides care or the place where the care is provided. So, for example, care can be provided in a care or nursing home, hospice, other care facility, or even in the person’s own home.

6.If you are resident in a care home, CHC covers all the care fees, including the cost of accommodation.

7.If you are receiving full-time care at home, CHC covers nursing care plus personal care, such as, bathing, dressing and any additional household cost directly related to care needs.

8.CHC is not means-tested, so wealth should never be a consideration.

In short: CHC is all about putting health needs first, not where you live or how much money you have.

Who gets CHC?

Everyone who receives full-time care and has healthcare needs should be assessed for CHC Funding. However, the public are generally unaware that this free NHS funding even exists! Instead, they are told that they have to pay for their own care and are subjected to means–testing.

To be eligible for CHC Funding, you have to have a ‘primary health need’ which means that the principal reason for care is due to health needs, not social needs.

The phrase, ‘primary health need’ is an expression included in the National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare. It is not a legal term, but a description to help identify the boundary between social needs and healthcare needs, and to determine the level and type of care required to meet those assessed care needs.

The distinction is critical in determining which side of the dividing line you fall onto, and consequently, who has to pay for your care.

This is the important bit…

  • healthcare needs are provided free of charge by the NHS
  • social care needs are provided by the Local Authority (Social Services) and are means–tested

However, in practice, the dividing line can become blurred, as NHS and Local Authorities may battle to suggest that your relative’s care needs fall into the other body’s remit and responsibility for payment.

The landmark Court of Appeal decision in the Pamela Coughlan case (1999), helped to clarify this boundary line and set out the ‘primary health needs test’. The Judgment set out what care could lawfully provide be provided by the Local Authority and what care fell beyond their remit and was the responsibility of the NHS.

Following the Coughlan decision, a Local Authority can only provide nursing care if it is merely:

  • incidental or ancillary to the provision of the accommodation which a Local Authority is under a duty to provide; and
  • of a nature which it can be expected that an authority whose primary responsibility is to provide social services, can be expected to provide.

As Pamela Coughlan’s healthcare needs were greater than those which the Local Authority could be expected to provide, she was eligible for NHS Continuing Healthcare and entitled to a free package of care.

The key is to look at the individual’s day-to-day nursing and healthcare needs, and consider when taken as a whole, whether they are above and beyond the expectation of the what a Local Authority can lawfully provide. You do this in conjunction with the 4 Key Indicators (or characteristics) – Nature, Intensity, Complexity and Unpredictability of the individual’s needs. Any one, or any combination, of these four Indicators of need, might mean that the individual has a primary health need, and is therefore eligible for CHC free-funded care.

The dividing line between social and health care needs in the Coughlan judgment and the ‘primary health needs’ approach was subsequently incorporated into the Care Act 2014. The Care Act 2014 has been included into the revised 2018 edition of the National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare and reinforces the existing boundaries and limits of what care is the responsibility of a Local Authority, and what is the responsibility of the NHS. The Care Act makes it clear that if an individual may be eligible for CHC, they should be referred to the local Clinical Commissioning Group for an assessment.

However, despite this assistance, unfortunately, the boundary demarcation is still not clear enough, and that creates uncertainty and room for the NHS to avoid paying CHC.

Some examples of social care needs to help you…

Social care is often thought of as needing help with things like:

  • your well-being
  • the activities of daily living
  • helping to maintain independence and social interaction
  • avoiding risks in vulnerable situations

Common examples of social care needs might include: help with getting in and out of bed, getting dressed and washed, toileting, meal preparation and eating, and assistance when going out shopping or visiting family and friends.

As an example, take an individual who has suffered a partial one-sided stroke. They may be perfectly able to communicate their needs reliably, have full cognition with no behavioural issues, have no breathing problems or incontinence needs, and enjoy a perfectly healthy well-balanced diet. However, they may require additional assistance with dressing, personal hygiene and their mobility, and need someone to accompany them at all times when going out of the home to minimise the risk of falling. This example of social needs may be available through the Local Authority (Social Services) – unless you have enough money, wherein you will have to pay for the care yourself.

Understanding this key difference between social and healthcare needs, could save you the stress and trouble of needlessly pursuing a CHC assessment for your relative if their needs simply aren’t high enough to meet the eligibility criteria for CHC Funding, and in fact, are plainly social needs (and therefore subject to means–testing).

Equally, the distinction is important because, if your relative clearly has a primary health need, but you fail to recognise the difference, they could be lead down the wrong track and end up self-funding their care out of private savings, and even being forced to sell their home, quite unnecessarily!

Joint Packages of Care

CHC includes personal and social care needs which might otherwise be met by Social Services.

In some situations, package of care can be provided jointly by both the NHS and the Local Authority.

If your relative’s care needs are equally funded by the NHS and the Local Authority, then there is an argument to say that their needs are sufficiently high to merit CHC Funding in full. However, your argument is strengthened if the majority of the joint care package is being funded by the NHS. For example, if the NHS are funding 75% and the Local Authority are funding the other 25%. If the majority of care needs are being paid for by the NHS, then arguably that demonstrates an overriding primary health need, and as such, all the funding should be paid for in full by the NHS, and not subjected to means-testing by the Local Authority.

For more information, read our blogs:

Are You Getting A Joint Package Of Care?

What is a joint package of care?


Coughlan, The Care Act 2014 and the National Framework combined, draw an important distinction between social needs and healthcare needs.

Remember: It’s all about understanding who pays!

Recognising the difference is vital, as it determines which body is responsible for paying for your relative’s care, or whether they will have to contribute to the cost of their own care.

When you put the maths into practice, knowing the difference could mean paying care home fees of £937* a week / £45,000 a year (* or nothing at all!

The difficulty is that often the dividing lines are between social and healthcare needs are blurred, and it is not always obvious which side of the line you fall onto. If in doubt, then you must request an assessment for CHC Funding to ascertain whether your relative has a primary healthcare need.

If the NHS have tried to push your relative down the Local Authority means-tested route or self-funding, despite having obvious healthcare needs, then share your experience with others and explain how you dealt with the situation.


  1. Ian McClymont 5 days ago

    Hello ,good article Michelle.
    My current dad’s situation is in September I appealed a CHC .
    Dad got worse and entered hospital in December.He then was re homed in a Dementia plus care facility ,which suits dad better because a lower occupancy and more staff to meet dad’s needs.
    He then was given CHC number 2 and again did not meet the CHC framework,even though his RMN thought her 3 SEVERE needs score should have been acknowledged.
    This now has gone to appeal.
    In the meantime the CHC for September was successful and a PRIMARY HEALTH NEED was identified on 20/2/20.
    Because dad had been re homed from hospital in December I am know awaiting the same dispute and resolution nurse to undertake a second appeal 4 weeks after a Primary Health Need was identified for appeal number 2.
    The sting in the tail is because dad moved out of area the new local authority are refusing to pay his FNC on grounds that he should be given CHC on a permanent basis unless new evidence is presented to say otherwise.
    We carry on paying and defering the £1,960 weekly fee.
    Once this Covid 19 is done and property prices are 50% less dad’s property won’t cover his fees.

    • Michelle wetherall 2 days ago

      Hi Ian,
      I’m pleased to hear that you have been successful in securing funding as a result of the 1st CHC. I am assuming this was through LRP and not an IRP? An IRP would have taken many months to reach! So funding is in place from that date going forward ie Sept 2019? Any subsequent assessments/appeals shouldn’t have any bearing on the outcome of the 1st successful CHC. I’m sure CTBD will correct me if I’m wrong. I would be arguing with your new authority that CHC has been awarded and they should be commissioning this. Concentrate all your efforts on fully funded CHC and not FNC. The paltry amount that is FNC is the “red-herring” in this process.

  2. Michelle Wetherall 6 days ago

    Thanks CTBD for another informative article.
    I know when I was working on my late father’s case, this was so important to understand. That invisible line
    that puts you either one side or the other in terms of funding. That line that can be “moved” ever so slightly by CHC/CCG at MDT/DST,so your loved one becomes the responsibility of the local authority.
    For me (even though we were successful in reclaiming dad’s fees), I still can’t “square” FNC (Funded Nursing Care) in all of this. How can it be that my late father was deemed so poorly that he required a nursing home (not a care home) and was awarded FNC, but they deemed him not to have a primary healthcare need. It never made sense to me and inspired me to fight for justice for dad. The point I make is if a patient is awarded FNC, then I argue they have a PHN.
    They are in receipt of nursing 24/7. I urge anyone who is paying for care in a Nursing Home, to challenge and appeal FNC and CHC.
    Back to the article, which you gave examples of social care needs. This area is fairly simple to understand and I was expecting to scroll down and read some examples of healthcare needs? Primary Healthcare Need and the Four Key Indicators are undoubtedly the area of greatest concern for those applying for CHC. They need to know what this means. You have some excellent articles on here detailing them, but a refresher with examples of what Nature, Complexity, Intensity and Unpredictability means in terms of a PHN, would complete the article. I was left wondering why you hadn’t?
    For me, this is where every challenge/appeal should focus. If relatives are to be successful the emphasis wont be on the woeful/inadequate delays or process. It will be on proving a PHN using those terms. Get that right, with overwhelming evidence to support it and there can be no argument.

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