Elderly people are feeling trapped in their own homes as a wheelchair service struggles to bring down its four-and-a-half-year waiting list.

This year, Government funding almost tripled for Southend's wheelchair service.

However, after an initial reduction the service's waiting lists for electric wheelchairs are creeping up once again.

People are having to wait a year to get an ocupational therapy assessment for an indoor wheelchair and as long as four-and-a-half years for an outdoor one.

Electric wheelchairs cost about £10,000, although some cost the service as much as £18,000. Manual chairs cost about £6,500.

The service, free to people who need mobility equipment for more than six months, has 3,500 clients on its books.

One client, John Day, also the chairman of Southend's Disability Information and Advice Line, said older people were feeling increasingly imprisoned in their own homes.

He said: "You cannot as a society say, You wait for a year before you can have a wheelchair and integrate with society'.

"I am sitting on an electric wheelchair now which is falling apart and I have already been on the NHS wheelchair list for a couple of years.

"I'm not unique. This happens to everybody. It's soul destroying.

"Your quality of life is seriously affected by the wait, when you have got to be pushed and pulled about or ask friends and family to help pay for care."

At a meeting of Southend's community services scrutiny committee, Karen Christensen, Southend Primary Care Trust's head of occupational therapy and equipment services, said chairs in the wrong hands could be dangerous because they are bulky and heavy, so it was important to assess people carefully.

She added: "We are hoping to make real inroads to waiting lists this year. We have hired new assessors and have bought new electric wheelchairs."

Gwen Horrigan, Southend Council's champion for the elderly, told the meeting: "I find it totally unacceptable you discharge someone from hospital and it can be a year before any assessment is done. You can deteriorate dreadfully in a year."