Wheelchair users boosted by Change Day

Regional Medical Director Dr Nigel Acheson explains how NHS England is improving services for wheelchair users to help empower their lives and give them opportunities that most other people take for granted:

More than a million people in England use wheelchairs – opening opportunities that other people take for granted such as access to education, work, sport and other leisure activities with friends and family.

Too often, however, wheelchair users find that they do not have timely access to the right chair. Not only can this hinder their ability to live their lives to the full, but the wrong chair may cause complications, injury and even hospital stays and operations.

Imagine for a second that a drug treatment is recommended for you. How acceptable would it be to be offered a different, completely inappropriate drug? And yet this can be the effect of providing the wrong wheelchair for an individual – as one individual said on NHS Change Day 2015: “Don’t bend the person to fit the wheelchair, bend the equipment to fit the person”.

A number of other wheelchair users and carers also contributed to this year’s Change Day, and videos from the day can be found on the NHS Change Day website.

NHS Change Day has important associations for wheelchair users and NHS England as it was following the 2014 Change Day that the first wheelchair summit emerged.

This focus has allowed wheelchair users, carers, staff, charities, providers, local commissioners and NHS England to build upon a shared commitment to improve services following the first national wheelchair summit in February 2014 and the second in November 2014.

Following the second summit the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance was established, chaired by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. The Alliance is focused on building the Right Chair Right Time Right Now campaign, creating a Wheelchair Charter and calling for concerted action by the different stakeholder groups across England to make a difference to the experience of people who use wheelchairs.

You can get involved in the work and share your ideas through contacting the Alliance via email at or on twitter via @rightwheelchair or @Tanni_GT using #MyWheelchair.

The Alliance also brings together workstreams established as a result of the wheelchair summits and work being led by NHS England. A common strand of the work is the need to empower users and carers and focus on training staff to ensure a holistic approach to assessing the needs of individuals.

Other work focuses on how the “system” can be improved in order to meet the needs of all individuals requiring wheelchairs.

NHS England is leading on three areas of work nationally to support improvements in wheelchair services:

  • Building a national data set to ensure transparency across the country about the quality of services in order to drive improvement.
  • Piloting the way that wheelchairs are purchased. Working with 10 wheel chair service providers, a new currency model will be tested over the next six months with the intention to spread this work more widely in 2016/17.
  • Supporting local commissioning communities to pay attention to wheelchair services by highlighting, sharing and spreading good practice.

Listening to feedback has led us to develop a range of practical tools including a model service specification, collecting case studies of good practice, and “top tips” which share learning from others.

I have observed from wheelchair users, carers, staff, charities, providers, local commissioners and NHS England the commitment to rise to this NHS Change Day pledge in order to enable wheelchair users to lead their lives fully.

Nigel Acheson

Nigel Acheson is Regional Medical Director and Higher Level Responsible Officer for the South Region of NHS England. With a population of 13.4 million, the Region stretches from Cornwall to Kent and includes the cities of Bristol, Oxford and Southampton.

Born in Belfast, Nigel trained in Birmingham and was appointed as a consultant gynaecological oncologist in 2002, moving to the Royal Devon and Exeter (RD&E) Hospital in Exeter to help develop the Gynaecological Cancer Centre there and learn to sail.

From his time as a National Advisor and Clinical Lead to the Department of Health’s Enhanced Recovery Partnership Programme, Nigel actively promotes the involvement of patients as partners in their care. Whilst Medical Director for the Peninsula Cancer Network in the South West of England, Nigel helped to re-establish the patient and public group with the chair and vice-chair becoming members of the network Board.