Giving choice and independence

The Chief Executive of Whizz-Kidz, the national charity for disabled children and young people, looks at the new rights for wheelchair users:

The announcement that the Government is extending the legal right to personal wheelchair budgets is life-changing.

This development is a significant step in the right direction, and builds upon the recently published vision of Universal Personalised Care as well as NHS England’s 2014 commitment to improve wheelchair services.

Extending the legal right to a personal wheelchair budget means an individual’s choice of a wheelchair – within NHS-commissioned services or outside them – will be supported.

At Whizz-Kidz we know the importance of having the right wheelchair. Since 1990, providing young disabled people with appropriate mobility equipment has been at the heart of what we do. We have long since lobbied for the legal right to a personal wheelchair budget so disabled people can actively choose a wheelchair that meets their needs.

This is an approach we have adopted in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. For the past five years Whizz-Kidz has operated the paediatric and adult wheelchair services contract for the NHS in the borough. We work alongside Bart’s Health NHS Trust, the East London NHS Foundation Trust, and Tower Hamlets Health and Social Care and Tower Hamlets Educational Services to jointly fund wheelchairs and mobile seating solutions.

The Tower Hamlets service sees 1,300 clients annually, 18% of whom are children and 82% are adults. Of these, 420 clients are first time referrals. Services range from assessing individuals for new power and manual wheelchairs to repairing and maintaining existing wheelchairs.

Over the last year, the service has been piloting personal wheelchair budgets to increase choice and control for clients. Using personal wheelchair budgets enables the service to adopt a holistic approach to each wheelchair user, ensuring the assessment considers what they want to achieve with their wheelchair – from accessing education and work, to socialising and family time.

Jon Owen, Transformation Manager, Integrated Commissioning, Tower Hamlets CCG said: “Personal wheelchair budgets are a powerful tool in improving services, giving people a greater say in how they achieve their goals and aspirations. The decision to extend the legal right to PWBs is welcome news, and will hopefully lead to a positive shift in the way we deliver wheelchair services across the country.”

So far, 551 people have successfully used a personal wheelchair budget to get a wheelchair that suits their lifestyle.

Our partnership work with the NHS in Tower Hamlets demonstrates how our way of working can have a powerful effect in a whole borough. It’s an approach that can be replicated across NHS wheelchair services in order to better meet the needs of wheelchair users.

To fully grasp the opportunity the new legal right personal wheelchair budgets offers, NHS wheelchair services need to undergo a cultural shift. If NHS wheelchair services are to be truly committed to increasing wheelchair users’ independence and choice through personal wheelchair budgets, clinicians must effectively communicate with people about what they want and why. You wouldn’t buy a car without working out what you need it for and going for a test drive. Why should a wheelchair user be any different?

We have found three ways to successfully implement personal wheelchair budgets:

  • Implement in tranches first – the Tower Hamlets service started by using personal wheelchair budgets for power wheelchairs to get used to the paperwork and conversations with clients
  • Be prepared to keep changing things as you get used to personal wheelchair budgets – we changed all the assessment forms several times to aid natural conversations with client about their goals and to ensure the wording is client-friendly
  • Embrace the concept behind personal wheelchair budgets – it’s not the same as the voucher scheme so don’t approach it like it is. Be committed to supporting your client to have the right to make a choice about the wheelchair they want.

Ruth Owen OBE is Chief Executive of Whizz-Kidz, the national charity for disabled children and young people. Since 2004, she has led the charity to become the biggest provider of powered and lightweight manual wheelchairs for disabled children outside the NHS. A wheelchair user from the age of seven, Ruth believes passionately in the importance of independent mobility in a child’s life.

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