Back in 2014, NHS England launched their Wheelchair Services Improvement Programme, after coming under criticism for their poor standard of service. Since then, two summits have taken place, together with the formation of working groups, and a campaign group called the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance. However, despite this perceived progress, the former chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, Sir Bert Massie, claims that he’s unable to see any improvements to services at all.
While there may be a much wider range of wheelchairs available than there was a few decades ago, it’s still extremely difficult to get a prompt assessment and a wheelchair that meets an individual’s specific needs; with many wheelchair users being offering chairs which are not only too big and cumbersome for everyday use or too small to be comfortable, but having to wait for long periods of time before being issued with a suitable chair, and then waiting for equally long periods for repairs to existing chairs. This often results in users having to purchase their own wheelchair to have any chance of getting something that meets their needs.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the former Paralympian, has recently been given the lead position at the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance, which is made up of both service providers and organisations that represent wheelchair users. The group met for the first time in March this year, and have already begun to write a charter to detail their aims, which is currently in draft form. Those who’ve already seen the draft, including Sir Bert Massie, have referred to it as ‘vague’ and lacking in standards. However, Baroness Grey-Thompson has defended the Alliance, saying that difficulties have arisen due to the fact that the NHS is no longer one entity and that there are currently 209 different Clinical Commissioning Groups who all have autonomy over the way they run their wheelchair services. She also believes that the provision of wheelchair services is not a high enough priority, and has urged people to write to her at the House of Lords to share their views.
Sir Bert Massie, who is also a wheelchair user, currently chairs the Community Equipment Code of Practice Scheme which has recently published a guide for providing disability equipment. This has received endorsement from the Quality Care Commission, but so far has not been adopted by the NHS. In addition, the Wheelchair Management Forum, led by Krys Jarvis, which represents providers of wheelchair services, agrees that providers are becoming increasingly frustrated by the situation as they are given little to no direction and yet expected provide a service without any specific parameters.
The Wheelchair Leadership Alliance has recently launched a website called Right Wheelchair where the public are being encouraged to pledge their support. Meanwhile the NHS continues to stress that it’s working towards improving the data held on wheelchair provision, while continuing to trial new ways of funding the service, and find new ways to provide both support and resources to local commissioners.