More than 80 per cent of applications to allow carers to make difficult decisions for vulnerable people take far longer than the legal time limit to process.

The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) ensure people who cannot consent to their care arrangements in a care home or hospital are protected if those arrangements deprive them of their liberty.

Hospitals and care homes must apply to the council for permission to make decisions for anyone thought to lack the mental capacity to consent, such as those with dementia. There is a legal time limit of 21 days for standard bids to be processed.

According to NHS Digital data, Wiltshire Council dealt with 270 standard applications in 2019/20 but only 50, or 19 per cent, were completed within 21 days.

Care homes and hospitals can apply for authorisation up to 28 days in advance of when they plan to make decisions on behalf of a resident or patient.

If the decision needs to be made before the council can respond to a request for a standard authorisation, they can use an urgent authorisation, which allows them to make decisions on the person's behalf for up to seven days.

This needs to be authorised by the council within that time. The council dealt with 1,915 urgent applications in 2019/20.

On average it took the council 271 days to process these applications up from 248 days the previous year. The longest application took 2,059 days to complete.

Cabinet member for adult social care, Simon Jacobs said: “There has been a tenfold increase in requests for DOLS authorisations nationally in recent years and a nationwide shortage of trained assessors.

“This means in Wiltshire we have to carefully risk assess each request we receive and prioritise the most urgent so the most vulnerable people are safeguarded.

“Where there is a delay, as the risk is very low, this does not impact on the type or quality of the care someone receives or their carers.”

The DOLS scheme will be replaced in 2022 with a new Liberty Protection Safeguards Framework. The council says it is carefully planning to ensure it can continue to protect vulnerable residents.

Across England, 117,675 standard applications were dealt with, but only 24% of them were processed within 21 days. The average waiting time was 142 days, five fewer than in 2018-19.