Row over publicity for care home fee refund deadline
Thousands of families are at risk of missing the chance to claim back wrongly paid care home fees, Age Cymru has claimed.
It accused the Welsh government of not adequately publicising the 31 July deadline to claim refunds from the NHS for the costs of continuing healthcare.
More than £50m has been reimbursed over the last 10 years after many elderly people were forced to sell their homes.
The Welsh government said it had "proactively publicised" the deadline.
The NHS is responsible for paying the fees for people who receive care primarily for health reasons, regardless of the person's financial circumstances or whether the care was in a nursing home or in their own home.
This is known as NHS Continuing Healthcare.
Many people did not claim the payments because they did not know they could or because they were told they did not qualify for the funding.
People who paid for nursing care between 1 April 2003 and 31 July 2013 have until the end of this month register their intent to appeal and then until 31 December complete and submit their documentation.
Powys Teaching Health Board, which has been running a pan-Wales scheme for retrospective claims, has paid £50m since 2004. In some cases, local health boards have dealt with claims directly.
It said 83% of the 1,375 cases administered by the scheme have resulted in a refund of part or all of the care fees.
Now, shadow health minister Darren Millar is calling for the Welsh Government to extend the deadline for people to claim back money.
He said: "The 31 July deadline should now be extended by three months to give the thousands of relatives, many of whom are elderly and vulnerable, the opportunity to claim back five figure care home bills they never should have been made to pay.
"An extended deadline would give Labour ministers and Local Health Boards the chance to re-double their efforts and properly publicise how families can have their claims fairly assessed and be appropriately reimbursed."
'Never a burden'
Viv Roberts, from Aberdare, managed to claim back more than £80,000 after his sister-in-law Eileen Puc was denied funding for care.
Mrs Puc, who had worked for the NHS, was forced to sell her house in order to pay the fees for the nursing home that she lived in before she died in 2009.
She was immobile after three strokes, was diabetic, could not speak and was partially sighted.
When she was assessed for continuing healthcare she was told that she was not entitled to any funding.
However, that decision was overturned following three appeals and two complaints to the Public Services Ombudsman.
But the delay in funding meant Mrs Puc's home had to be sold to pay the nursing home fees.
Mr Roberts said the experience was "traumatic".
"These people cannot look after themselves anymore but they worked 40, 50 years," he said.
"They paid their taxes and their national insurance contributions and were never a burden to society and when it came to their case, for them to be looked after, they had to pay for themselves."
Age Cymru's head of policy and public affairs, Graeme Francis, said: "I don't think there's been a huge amount of pro-active publicity given about this deadline.
"I think that's wrong because people need to have the right information and need to know whether they can apply or they might miss the opportunity.
"I think there's been reluctance in the past or an attempt by the NHS to manage its budgets and to try and avoid liabilities to pay for people's care.
"Ultimately, that doesn't serve them or the people that are getting the care in the long run."
The Welsh government denied failing to alert people to the limited time left to claim refunds.
"We wrote to a range of bodies throughout the health, local government, user groups and the independent sector - including Age Cymru - announcing to them the new arrangements." a spokesperson said.
"Local health boards worked with their own communications teams to distribute these materials. Welsh government has placed adverts in 12 newspapers across Wales."