A vulnerable person in Cornwall waited more than nine years for a decision on whether a carer would be allowed to make decisions on their behalf, new figures show.
Across the country, thousands have experienced a prolonged wait for their deprivation of liberty applications, which allow a third party to act on behalf of those judged to be unable to make decisions for themselves.
Care homes, hospitals, and other organisations must seek permission from the local authority to use the policy, which is generally only deployed for people with dementia or severe mental health issues.
Charities said the delay that left thousands of people in limbo is a “public mental health scandal” and called on the Government to make sure the system is properly funded.
NHS Digital figures show one vulnerable person in Cornwall had to wait for eight years and approximately 222 days for their carer to be able to make decisions on their behalf. This was the slowest completion in the area for the period 2022-23.
The average time it took for an application to be completed in Cornwall was 342 days. This was one of the longest waits in the country. There were 2,230 applications, only 445 of which were processed within 21 days, which is the legal time limit.
Those who faced the delays accounted for 80% of all people whose applications were received or completed in the year ending March 2023.
The 21-day time frame was also exceeded the year before, when patients saw average waits of 291 days.
Across England, the average wait time for all completed applications was 156 days, an increase of three days on the previous year.
Rupen Gahir Kalsi, senior policy manager at VoiceAbility, a charity which advocates for patients, said: "These figures are shocking, but not surprising. This is wholly predictable and is why DoLS (deprivation of liberty safeguards) was due to be replaced by Liberty Protection Safeguards earlier this year – legislation which has now been shelved.
"LPS is not the perfect solution, but implementing this would make a huge difference to people, the majority of whom are older people, stuck living in places they don’t want to be, separated from friends and family. They need urgent action from government now."
Rheian Davies, head of legal at mental health charity Mind, said: “Even under existing legislation these waiting lists could come down if ringfenced money was given to local authorities to employ more specialist social workers, known as Best Interest Assessors, who decide if the placement where the patient is detained is in their best interests.
“We call on the UK Government to take stock of these appalling figures and put in the resources needed to address what can only be called, a public mental health scandal.”
Over half (56%) of the 289,150 applications completed in England were not granted due to a change in the person’s circumstances or not meeting the assessment criteria.
In Cornwall, there were 1,975 DoLS not granted — 89% of all applications.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “To assist local authorities, the Government is providing up to £7.5 billion of additional funding over two years to support adult social care and discharge.
“Local authorities will have the flexibility to use this funding to meet local needs.”