Improving Wheelchair Services

NHS England is working together with a range of people and organisations to improve wheelchair services, and to ensure that all wheelchair users receive the best possible support for their needs.

Following two wheelchair summits in 2014, NHS England committed to providing CCGs with more help in commissioning more effective, higher-quality wheelchair services, and has been providing the following support:

NHS Planning Guidance now includes wheelchairs as an area for CCGs to make improvement plans, specifically with regard to how they will achieve 100% in relation to the 18 week Referral to Treatment standard waiting time. NHS England is holding CCGs to account for performance against this target through the CCG assurance programme.

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.

  • There are currently around 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK. Two thirds of them are regular users.
  • Many wheelchair users face delays in getting their chair – 70% waiting more than three months, 30% face a delay of more than six months with 15% waiting more than 12 months.
  • Up to half of all people who use a wheelchair will develop a pressure ulcer at some point during their life caused, in part, by ill-fitting or ill-equipped chairs. The cost of treating the worst cases of a pressure ulcer can be as much as 16 total hip replacements.
  • Public money is being wasted by supplying incorrect equipment or by delays in supplying the right equipment. For every 182 wheelchair users not able to work, the benefits bill can increase by up to £1m, whereas the positive economic contribution made when in work can be up to £4.7m.