Dozens of disabled people waiting too long for NHS wheelchairs in Bedfordshire
Pandemic is to blame, says Clinical Commissioning Group
Dozens of disabled people in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes waited longer than the NHS target time for a wheelchair over the summer, figures show.
Charity Disability Rights UK has called on the NHS to tackle wheelchair waiting times across the country, and said leaving someone without one is akin to 'removing the use of a non-disabled person's legs'.
Clinical Commissioning Groups in England are required to deliver wheelchairs to patients within 18 weeks of a referral.
But NHS England data shows 35 new patients who received wheelchairs in the NHS Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (NHS BLMK CCG) area between July and September had waited longer than this.
That equated to 11 per cent of the 312 patients given new equipment during the period
Of those left waiting longer than four months for a wheelchair, eight were children and 27 adults.
And 10 of these patients were described as having high needs.
NHS BLMK CCG revealed the pandemic has had a huge impact on the problem.
A spokesperson from NHS BLMK CCG said: “Some of our residents waited longer than the NHS target time for a wheelchair this summer. The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on local waiting times and, along with our local providers, we are aware of these residents.
"We are working hard to continue to provide patients with the wheelchairs they need whilst the system recovers. Across the CCG, we have already provided a large number of adults and children with a wheelchair Personal Health Budget to help them have a choice in and control the care they receive.”
Nationally, almost 3,000 new patients (13 per cent) were subject to lengthy wheelchair waits between July and September – and children were more likely to wait longer, with a third of disabled youngsters waiting over 18 weeks.
It is far more common for those with high needs to face delays than those with low needs – just 6 per cent of people with less urgent needs had waited longer than four months, compared to 22 per cent of those with high needs.
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at charity Disability Rights UK, described the figures as shocking and said: “A wheelchair enables mobility within and outside the home, allowing children and adults to get around independently and safely and live the lives they choose.
"Many disabled wheelchair users talk about their wheelchairs as being an extension of their bodies.
"To not have a wheelchair is akin to a non-disabled person not having their legs for a prolonged period of time."
Different figures show the current annual spend on wheelchair services differs significantly, with some CCGs spending several million pounds a year, and others, tens of thousands.
The annual spend on wheelchair services nationally equates to £211 per patient and ranges from below £2 per head in Newcastle Gateshead to £800 in Thurrock.
The Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes CCG's annual spend is £1.8 million, the equivalent of around £430 for each of the 4,192 patients registered.
Disability Rights UK has called for the disparities across CCGs to be addressed urgently and for the NHS to consult with wheelchair users to establish quality standards, timescales and monitoring arrangements.
An NHS spokesman said most people received the right wheelchair for their needs within 18 weeks but those with specialist requirements may wait longer.
He said Personal Health Budgets gave people more choice and control over their wheelchair provision.