FAMILIES who were forced to pay for care for seriously ill relatives that should have been free have been refunded thousands of pounds, new figures show.

A Freedom of Information request revealed 22 families were repaid by the Castle Point and Rochford Clinical Commissioning Group between 2020 and 2015.

The pay-outs followed assessments showing patients should have received care but had previously been forced to pay.

John Petters, son of Doreen Cowell, who died on Canvey in 2017, successfully lobbied for his family to receive £14,000.

He proved his mother’s needs were severe enough for the NHS to fund care for her.

Patient - Doreen with son John and Evelyn

Patient - Doreen with son John and Evelyn

Now, Mr Petters’ freedom of information request has revealed a host of other families received similar pay-outs.

Mr Petters, 67, said: “Any objective assessment of my mother’s health in her last few years could not fail to conclude that her needs were those of health care and not social.

“The process for appealing decisions is fatally flawed. So called independent review panels, provided and paid for by the NHS, normally reinforce unlawful decisions.

“The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman has no power to investigate breaches of the law. As a result, my mother’s estate was wrongly charged £86,000 for care she should have received free.”

Mrs Cowell died in September 2017 at the age of 85, having suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, epilepsy, a heart condition and unable to communicate or feed herself.

She had falls causing fractures, whilst being looked after by Longview Care Home, Canvey, but it was wrongly ruled that her care needs were social rather than health related.

Healthcare bosses agreed to pay for her care a few days before she died, when her needs were nowhere near the level required when she went into the home in 2013.

The commissioning group insisted it followed government throughout Mrs Cowell’s case and others.

Mr Petters added: “22 people is the tip of a care crisis iceberg. Most sick people are not assessed for free continuing care, which is a legal right.

“This is a national scandal and retired Rear Admiral Philip Mathais is spearheading a legal challenge to force Matt Hancock and the NHS to ensure that such abuses against the most frail and vulnerable, sick people are reversed and that the NHS follows its legal obligation to provide free healthcare at the point of need.”

A commissioning group spokesman said: “We follow the government guidance and process for determining eligibility for NHS continuing healthcare, which is based on individuals’ assessed health needs.”