Elderly care interests preparing for the Government's long-awaited response to the Royal Commission on long-term care fear its report may be shelved indefinitely.

Carefully-placed stories in the press reveal the Government is considering giving elderly people three months free nursing and residential care while their needs are assessed. But an informed source called this 'kite-flying' by government spin doctors acting while Health Secretary Frank Dobson is away on holiday.

Andy Allsop, former press officer to the commission and now spokesman for Age Concern, called the proposal a red herring: "There are already ways for elderly patients to take a payment holiday while their long-term care requirements are decided."

He said the proposal was only a very small plank in the commission's raft of proposals handed to Dobson last March.

"It still does not address the central initiative of the review, which is how long-term care should be funded."

The Royal Commission favours free personal care for the elderly but means-tested living expenses.

Age Concern is concerned the proposal was leaked to test reaction in the long-term care market ahead of the Labour party's autumn conference. This is when Dobson is expected to make an announcement on the commission's proposals.

Indications of a positive reaction are not good, said Allsop. "We have seen complete inertia from the Government, which has began referring to the review as merely a 'contribution to the debate'."

Geoff Brown, managing director of BUPA health assurance, agreed deferrment was the likely outcome.

"We need the Government to clarify its position. We have the commission's very comprehensive report but now it looks as if it might be shelved on the grounds of cost."