How we’ve put personalised care front and centre of our wheelchair services

East Riding Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are finalists in this year’s HSJ awards for their work to introduce personal wheelchair budgets. In this blog, commissioner Sally Smith shares her experiences, ahead of changes in the law which will soon make personal wheelchair budgets a legal right for wheelchair users. 

I first heard about personal wheelchair budgets at an event run by NHS England back in 2017. Being told there was no new money was initially disappointing, but my colleague Patience Young from Hull CCG and I decided we were going to make this happen regardless. Our decision was made (almost) entirely after meeting a wheelchair user who spoke at the event about his personal wheelchair budget. He was so inspiring, that by the time Patience and I arrived back in Hull, we had hatched a plan.

The journey towards offering personal wheelchair budgets was made easier because both Patience and I had spent most of our working career in occupational therapy, and we had an invaluable knowledge of the systems, processes, workforce and client group.

Our first step was to approach the local wheelchair service provider who agreed to facilitate the implementation of personal wheelchairs budgets. We then decided to find a potential recipient and work from there.

At one event, I met a firefighter who, due to illness, had recently become a full-time wheelchair user. He was returning to work as a home-safety officer but was struggling with the chair he used. One of the things he hoped to do was take his young daughter to school. So we set about making this happen. He was eventually provided with a Batec Rapid Electric wheelchair attachment, which he says “literally changed my life”. To make this possible, funding came from Access to Work, his employer and a small amount of charitable funding.

He says: “The Batec has given me is the opportunity to be able to take my very young daughter to school and pick her up. I can’t walk her to school but she enjoys the ride sat on my lap and she gets there quicker.

“My new wheelchair has given me far more independence, and the mental lift cannot be underestimated.”

This type of experience shows just how important this work is.

We also provided one man with a chair raiser, which not only reduced his overall care package but gave him more dignity, allowing him to transfer on and off the toilet rather than waiting for carers to help. Something simple like enabling an activity that most of us take for granted can change a life.

Personal wheelchair budgets can create a ripple effect. By changing the chair and not the environment, you keep options open. For example, if you only make adaptations in your house, what happens when you go to someone else’s house, to work, or to the shops? This may seem logical, but it’s not been done until now.

As there’s no new money, it’s been challenging to find alternative funding streams. But with my experience and through networks I’ve formed, we’ve been able to approach the right people. By working closely with the Disability Resource Team at the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, we’ve made small changes that have allowed other funding steams to be used and get the chairs people need.

Being a finalist for the HSJ Awards has been brilliant because it gives a platform to personal wheelchair budgets and the work we’re doing more generally. In Hull and East Riding we’re committed to spreading the word. We’ve held events including a big celebration which showcased the work we’ve done and for the second year running we’re also mentors for other CCGs.

But we’re not resting on our laurels. I’m improving links with charitable organisations and providers of wheelchairs, along with working with our wheelchair provider and the local council to make processes better. Therapists are trained to become wheelchair-approved therapists who can confidently and competently discuss personal wheelchair budgets.

As we look forward to the new legal right to have a personal wheelchair budget; for us this won’t mean major changes as, with only a few exceptions, every local wheelchair user is already offered one. But this isn’t the case for everyone, and I hope that by sharing our experiences, good practice and resources, we can make personal wheelchair budgets not only a legal right to have, but the right thing to do.

Sally and Bradley

Sally has worked in occupational therapy for over 40 years in both acute mental health settings and paediatrics. She qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 2002, going on to work in adult social care, including as a team leader and manager.

Two years ago, Sally took up the role as Clinical Commissioner in the Transforming Community Team at East Riding CCG, with a specific remit for equipment and wheelchair services. Personalisation, especially personal wheelchair budgets, are a perfect match for Sally’s background as she has the clinical skills to understand the issues and the networks to raise the profile.

Sally lives in Beverley, East Yorkshire with her partner and dog Bradley Wiggins; who, as both her partner and grown-up sons will tell you, comes first in any pecking order.