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STAFF shortages at a hospital mean that treatment for foot problems are now being rationed on a "greatest need" basis.
Elderly people, many suffering from health problems such as diabetes and other conditions, are being told they can no longer automatically receive treatment at the foot clinic at St Albans City Hospital.
One elderly diabetic user, who did not wish to be named, was amazed when he visited the foot clinic last week to be informed that it would be his last visit.
He was told that it was because he no longer fitted new criteria.
He added: "The department staff have been spending time trying to explain the new rules to the patients including some patients who are blind, suffering with Parkinson's, motor neurone and many other serious medical conditions and one old patient who has reached the grand old age of 101.
"When asked what was the alternative for the many patients who were being discharged, the answer was private treatment."
A spokesperson for St Albans and Harpenden Primary Care Trust said the current financial position had led to staff shortages which had prompted a review of all foot health activity.
She added: "Fully-qualified podiatrists and chiropodists have to spread themselves thinly and this means people suffering from minor foot ailments will be assessed to see if their needs can be met in another way.
"For example if they have relatives who can cut their toe nails or can afford to pay for this service privately they will be offered help and guidance to take this route.
"But if they can't do this then they may be asked to visit their practice nurse who could assist with minor foot problems. Anyone who feels that their feet are at risk, cannot look after themselves or has no carer or family member to help should speak to a healthcare professional about a possible referral to the service."
But she stressed that the service could only be used after a referral from a GP, practice nurse, district nurse, health visitor of hospital doctor.
She said that depending on the level of risk, patients will be asked to attend the foot health clinic or advised that their GP or practice nurse will care for them.
She added: "Whether it is diabetes, Parkinson's, motor neurone or any other disease, it is not the diagnosis of the condition that provides access to the foot health service. Rather it is individual assessment of a patient's needs.