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NHS wheelchair services 'need major revamp'

Campaigners, including Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson, slam bad design and poor availability

Mark Gould

Monday, 20 July 2015

A wheelchair campaign group led by 11-time gold medal winning Paralympian Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson is today calling for the development of an effective NHS wheelchair service.

The Wheelchair Leadership Alliance, set up earlier this year, will present a 10-point document to politicians, providers and manufacturers at the Palace of Westminster today urging them to commit to improving wheelchair design and speed up provision and availability.

There are around 1.2 million wheelchair users in England, roughly 2 per cent of UK population, and too many have to wait too long for a wheelchair or receive a wheelchair that is suitable for their needs. The Alliance says that delays cause waste and harm to wheelchair users.

Lady Grey-Thompson said: “For too long wheelchair services have been inadequate and it is time that wheelchair users are listened to and provided a proper service, rather than being marginalised.”

The baroness, who plans to sit in a wheelbarrow outside parliament later today to demonstrate how little use the wrong type of wheelchair is, said the variation in quality of services across the UK was astounding.

“A huge proportion of wheelchair users are left immobilised, frustrated and ignored,” she said. “Now we want to get this issue on the radar of people who can influence change and also get them behind the campaign by urging them to pledge their support to the charter.”

The pledge includes 10 commitments, including equality of access and provision irrespective of age or postcode; regular reviews with the wheelchair user or their carer; recruitment of qualified staff; and assessments for all wheelchairs within a nationally mandated timeframe.

Current statistics reveal that many wheelchair users face delays in getting their chair. Of those with muscle wasting conditions, 70% wait more than three months, 30% face a delay of more than six months and 15% wait more than 12 months.

Up to half of all people who use a wheelchair will develop a pressure ulcer at some point during their life caused, in part, by ill-fitting or ill-equipped chairs. The cost of treating the worst cases of a pressure ulcer can be as much as 16 total hip replacements.

It also says public money is being wasted by supplying incorrect equipment or by delays in supplying the right equipment: for every 182 wheelchair users not able to work, the benefits bill can increase by up to £1m, whereas the positive economic contribution made when in work can be up to £4.7m.

The Alliance will seek to support the ongoing wheelchair services improvement work currently being undertaken by both NHS England and the six wheelchair services improvement workstreams that emerged following the first wheelchair summit on 25 February 2014.

It aims to persuade the 209 clinical commissioning groups in England – which organise the delivery of most NHS care – to put wheelchair provision at the top of the agenda.

Picture: Wheelchair users and members of the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance: Dr Jean Waters, Fiona Carey and Baroness Grey-Thompson.

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