New Report Sheds Light On The ‘Unseen Problems’ In Services Supporting Wheelchair Users In England

An ‘eDigest’ published today by NHS Improving Quality, the national NHS improvement organisation, describes the unseen problems faced by many of England’s 1.2 million* wheelchair users who do not routinely get the chair they need, in a timely way, everywhere and every time. The eDigest – RIGHT CHAIR  RIGHT TIME  RIGHT NOW – is published to coincide with, and support discussions at, a wheelchair summit taking place today in London. One of the purposes of the summit is to bring together wheelchair users, their carers and the organisations that deliver services supporting wheelchair users to discuss the findings and agree a way forward that will improve services. The eDigest is available at:

RIGHT CHAIR  RIGHT TIME  RIGHT NOW  pulls together evidence from a vast array of different sources, including 600 academic abstracts, 60 comprehensive reviews of research evidence, 11 detailed patient testimonies, case studies from across the NHS and material from over 30 key stakeholder organisations and individuals. Whilst it concludes that there are a great number of highly dedicated health and care professionals doing the best they can for wheelchair users, it also highlights some worrying findings:

  • Unacceptable delays for many wheelchair users in getting their chair – 70% of wheelchair users wait more than three months for their chair, 30% wait more than six months and 15% wait more than 12 months.
  • Harm caused by providing ill-fitting or ill-equipped chairs – up to half of all wheelchair users will develop a pressure ulcer at some point during their life. The cost of treating the worst cases of a pressure ulcer can be as much as 16 total hip replacements.
  • Waste of public money caused 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.

Speaking about the RIGHT CHAIR RIGHT TIME RIGHT NOW eDigest, Professor Moira Livingston, Clinical Director of NHS Improving Quality said, “In developing this eDigestwe set out to answer the question ‘do we have an intolerable situation for wheelchair users?’. While the evidence did show pockets of really excellent work, our overall conclusion is that things are too often intolerable for wheelchair users.  If the public were more aware of the situation I am sure they would feel as strongly as we do. You wouldn’t expect to have to wait three months for an essential prescription that makes it possible to live your life to the full, but for 70% of wheelchair users, that’s the reality. You also don’t expect side effects from a prescription to land you in hospital when there is a safer alternative available that wouldn’t. RIGHT CHAIR RIGHT TIME RIGHT NOW makes it clear that by getting a person the right chair at the right time we can reduce avoidable harm, unacceptable delays and unnecessary waste.  Now is the time to make lasting change.”

RIGHT CHAIR RIGHT TIME RIGHT NOW sets out three key recommendations to support this change:

  • create a wheelchair leadership alliance to bring representatives of all key stakeholder groups under one umbrella, to lead a collective effort in response to this challenge
  • a campaign that raises the profile of this intolerable situation and that mobilises all involved with services that support wheelchair users to work collectively to make a lasting positive change.
  • a wheelchair ‘constitution’ that all services will sign up to. This would set out what good looks like, remind us of the rights people have and describes the commitments that services will make for wheelchair users and carers

The eDigest contains a foreword from Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who said “My wheelchair is everything to me; it’s what makes it possible for me to live my life. When I first became a wheelchair user at 7 my doctor explained to me about pressure ulcers. It was terrifying and it has affected every single day of my life – I don’t want my life to be ended because I don’t have the right cushion or the right back support. As a disabled person it can feel at times like everything is a battle and that you have to make a lot of compromises. I want RIGHT CHAIR RIGHT TIME RIGHT NOW to help disabled people to feel empowered to say this is how I want to live my life, these are the things I want to do, and this is what I need from my wheelchair.  When you see the costs of not getting services for wheelchair users right – not just the financial cost, but the emotional cost, psychological cost, the cost to society of not making it possible for people to be integrated – it’s huge. That’s why I’m supporting RIGHT CHAIR RIGHT TIME RIGHT NOW because it will make a big difference for everybody.”


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