HUNDREDS of Wiltshire residents with ongoing healthcare needs could be missing out on tens of thousands of pounds a year in funding in what has been dubbed “an absolute disgrace”.

Wiltshire patients are among the least likely in the country to benefit from Continued Healthcare funding (CHC), putting the county in the bottom five per cent of England’s clinical commissioning groups (CCG) responsible for organising local health services.

Anyone with significant ongoing healthcare needs should automatically be assessed for NHS funding of up to £78,000 a year to cover their medical and care costs.

But many are not aware that they could be eligible, and some patients have raised concerns that the NHS in Wiltshire is not complying with government rules on allocating the money.

The CCG accepted that too few people were being referred for assessment, but said this was the job of frontline care staff.

Only 33 people in Wiltshire receive the funding for every 50,000 living in the county – less than half the national average.

But in some areas the figure rises to almost 250 people per 50,000.

Recently retired Rear Admiral Philip Mathias believes the CCG failed to follow national policy when deciding if his mother, Joy, was eligible.

Philip’s father has now paid more than £140,000 on care bills.

Despite an 18-month battle with the CCG’s appeals process, the family is no closer to securing the funding they believe they deserve.

Rules state CCGs must assess anyone who may be eligible for the funding and it should not be up to the patient or their family to trigger the process.

But it was Philip’s sister who started the assessment process for Joy, who is 87 and receives care for advanced dementia in a Salisbury care home, in May 2016.

When Philip asked the CCG why it had not assessed Joy when she first entered the home, he was told initial checks two years previously had shown she may have been eligible.

But this had not progressed to a formal assessment due to “an administrative error”.

“This, and the fact they failed to inform my 90-year-old father, was a serious breach of their legal duties and there are very probably other Wiltshire residents who don’t even know that they had been assessed,” he said.

But a spokesman for the CCG said it was “applying the criteria appropriately” in those cases it had assessed.

The CCG did not explain why it had such a low level of referrals, but said it was “working to ensure the correct level of referrals for CHC are being made by those frontline staff working with patients in both care settings and in their own home.”

The spokesman added that they had received “low numbers of referrals for people with complex needs who are living in their own home” and said the CCG was working with local adult care providers to identify eligible patients.

Wiltshire CCG would not comment on the number of patients who were potentially missing out on the funding, but said it relied on care providers to make these cases known to the NHS.

Philip added: “They flagrantly disregard many areas of the National Framework [used to assess patients for CHC] and simply fail to respond when challenged”.

He also raised concerns that a lack of government funding was behind the low number of people being allocated CHC, after a letter from the group’s chairman in October 2015 stated: “The CCG’s financial situation is dire”.

Philip said budget issues were not relevant to funding assessments, adding: “CHC funding is a legal entitlement and is not discretionary or based on NHS affordability”.

A freedom of information request to Wiltshire CCG showed £17million was spent on CHC for 216 people in 2015 to 2016.

As a Rear Admiral, Philip has worked in the Ministry of Defence and across several other Whitehall departments, but said he had never experienced “such a shocking level of dysfunctionality and professional incompetence” as he had in trying to secure the funding for his mother.

And he said the complex process would be likely to deter many people, particularly the frail and elderly, from seeking funding they should be entitled to, adding: “I have worked on the most complicated issues at the Ministry of Defence, but it has taken all my analytical skills and mental capacity to master the complexity of the 140-page National Framework.

“Wiltshire CCG’s dysfunctional and unlawful mismanagement of the CHC process exacerbates what is already a highly complex, stressful and lengthy process” he said.

“It is an absolute disgrace. The NHS was created to alleviate suffering, not to increase it.”