Jackie Baillie MSP will today launch a public consultation on proposed legislation which would see wheelchairs supplied to people who have a temporary need for one.
There is no duty on the NHS, or any other public body, to provide short-term wheelchairs to anyone with a mobility problem that is expected to last for less than six months.
The current criteria to access NHS wheelchair services states that the mobility need must be permanent.
This instantly prevents those with short-term needs accessing a wheelchair, and leaves many people prisoners in their own homes, unable to get out and increasingly dependent on others. In the worst-case scenario, it can lead to people being stuck in hospital for longer than necessary with delays to their discharge from hospital, while arrangements are made to approach charities such as the British Red Cross to access the loan of a wheelchair.
A Freedom of Information request by Jackie Baillie MSP found that only one NHS wheelchair provider was prepared to provide a wheelchair on a short-term basis and this was only issued in specific circumstances. There were no set criteria for how wheelchairs were provided in the short-term.
The result is that the provision of short-term wheelchairs is varied, inconsistent, and is often dependent on an individuals own knowledge. This means that many people who would benefit from access to a wheelchair are left struggling to cope without one.
Jackie Baillie MSP said:
“Our mobility is something that we often take for granted. Being mobile enables us to enjoy our freedom and autonomy, to go out to work, to get about our local community and to visit friends. Not being able to get about is very restrictive, it can be isolating and often leaves a person with impaired mobility wholly dependent on others.
“However, there is no duty on the NHS, or any other public body, to provide short-term wheelchairs to anyone with a mobility problem that is expected to last for less than 6 months.
“It means that a patient well enough to be discharged from hospital but with a mobility problem that would require access to a wheelchair for a short period of time, simply wouldn’t get one. This leaves patients either privately buying a wheelchair or relying on a charity providing one.
“Not being able to access a wheelchair when you have a clear short-term mobility need can lead to a delay in discharge from hospital; prolong your rehabilitation; slow down your reablement and have a negative impact on your emotional wellbeing, your social connections and your financial situation.
“Creating a statutory duty to provide access to short term wheelchairs, where it is appropriate to do so, is a relatively small change, but it is one that can make a significant difference to people’s lives.”
Fiona MacLeod, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer from the British Red Cross said:
“Through our services, we see every day the significant difference that accessing a wheelchair can have. Not only can it help people get out and about and maintain some sense of their life, but it can help them to get to work, reduce their dependency on their family and friends, and sometimes speed up their recovery time.
“Last year we published our Maintaining Mobility report. This found that 65 per cent of people with an unmet short-term mobility need experienced significant negative impact on their quality of life.
“For those who we were able to loan a wheelchair, 90 per cent said it made it easier to manage day to day activities, and almost half said it hastened their recovery time.
“But there are also benefits to the health and care system – reducing pressure by facilitating timely discharge, avoiding home visits and reducing missed or late appointments.
“Our evidence suggests that implementing this bill could have positive economic benefits with our analysis indicating potential savings ranging from £469 to £4,607, with an average saving of £1,676 for every person.”
Joseph Carter, Head of British Lung Foundation Scotland, said:
“When you are feeling so breathless that you need help to get around, the last thing that you want to be worrying about is whether you will have access to the support you need to cope with your breathlessness.
“Being diagnosed with an advanced form of lung disease is life-changing and it can be daunting to think about all the changes that come with it. By giving people faster access to wheelchairs to help them cope with extreme breathlessness, this Bill would make adapting to these changes much less stressful.”
Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said:
“We welcome this proposal which could have a positive impact for many of the 11,000 people in Scotland living with MS.
“Issues with mobility can affect people’s independence, confidence, employment and social lives so ensuring access to short-term wheelchairs for those who need it is crucial.
“Far too often the current system leaves people with short-term need and those waiting for assessment and provision on a permanent basis without the correct level of support to their mobility.
“We urge ministers to back this proposal and tackle the issue head-on.”