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Wheelchairs provide a significant gateway to independence, well-being and quality of life for thousands of adults and children. They play a substantial role in facilitating social inclusion and improving life chances through work, education and activities that many people who do not need wheelchairs take for granted.
Yet the wheelchair services provided by the NHS often fall short of meeting the needs of wheelchair users. Too often wheelchair users find that their social, professional and leisure activities are not enhanced, but instead limited by the sub-optimal chairs that are supplied.
For people with complex, long term conditions, being able to access the right wheelchair, quickly, and with appropriate support, is of paramount importance.
Although there are plenty of examples of good practice and dedicated staff around the country, unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. People often find themselves waiting a long time for wheelchairs, or sometimes develop secondary health complications resulting from an unsuitable wheelchair.
In an attempt to redress that, NHS England is working with a number of people and organisations to improve the way all wheelchair users are supported.
From discussions at two national summits we know that there are some practical steps that can be taken to improve the commissioning and provision of wheelchair services. These include:
- Establishing data collections to identify levels of activity and need
- Exploring integrated health and social care needs assessments
- Improving training for staff to help them offer advice about equipment
- Offering help to commissioners to better understand wheelchair services
- Creating practical user guides for service users and carers
From talking to wheelchair users and carers we know that when wheelchair services are poor, they can make it harder for people to reach their potential and participate in the world. When they are great they can truly transform a person’s life – building confidence and enabling independence.