SPENDING on free personal care for elderly people living at home in Scotland has increased by more than 160% since the flagship policy was introduced, with the bill reaching almost £350m in 2012-13.

The number of pensioners receiving personal care - which includes help with washing and dressing - in their own home has increased every year except one since 2003-04, according to a new Scottish Government report.

In 2012-13, 47,680 people benefited from the policy, receiving an average of 8.4 hours of care a week, compared to 32,870 people receiving an average of 6.9 hours of care a week in 2003-04.

The increases have sparked renewed calls for the Scottish Government to look into how they are going to continue funding the popular policy as the frail elderly population in Scotland continues to grow.

In April 2008 Lord Sutherland, the original architect of free personal care, published a report which identified a £40m funding shortfall and predicted the bill would reach £813m a year by 2031.

The Scottish Government gave councils the extra £40m, but the new report shows the total bill for free personal care, including packages provided to care home residents, is now £465m. That is another £41m increase since 2009-10.

Cllr Peter Johnston COSLA's health and social work spokesperson said councils had done a terrific job maintaining the policy despite financial pressures, but continued: "... it is evident from the Scottish Government's publication that the policy is becoming more expensive. Councils' social work budgets are under huge pressure, with some - from what we are hearing - nearly at breaking point. It is for this reason that a fundamental debate about the funding of care and support is required."

The Herald is campaigning for a review of NHS and social care capacity to identify the resources needed to cope with the growing number of older people.

Health Secretary Alex Neil said the Scottish Government remained "fully committed" to free personal care, stating that increasing numbers of people aged 65 and over were benefiting from the policy. He said: "We want older people to be able to stay at home or in a homely setting within their own communities for as long as possible, and free personal and nursing care is ensuring that we can offer older people the support they need to make this a reality. "These statistics also show that there has been a rise in the number of people with intensive care needs who are now being supported to remain at home for longer."

Scottish Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw said the Scottish Government still had not published a plan showing how they would pay for the policy in future.