Belfast Telegraph

Stranded Belfast man slams wheelchair repair services

By Victoria Leonard

An electric wheelchair user left stranded in front of Belfast City Hall has spoken of his embarrassment at having to call 999 for help because there is no on-call emergency repair service.

Daniel O'Neill said he had been travelling in his electric-powered wheelchair in the city centre when a castor broke off, and it ran into a railing.

However, when he rang the Belfast Health Trust's approved breakdown service, he was told they could not assist him in a public place.

"They said they don't do call-outs or breakdowns," he told the BBC's Nolan Show.

"They said that they don't do breakdown service outside of the home - you have to bring your chair back to your residential address and then they will come out and repair it.

"I told them that I was stranded and had no way of getting home, and they said that that was the policy of the Belfast Trust - they stopped the emergency call-outs.

"They only have a call-out service from 9am until 5pm, five days a week, so then I had to ring the fire brigade and the fire brigade came."

Mr O'Neill described having to call the Fire and Rescue Service to his location as "embarrassing".

"It was embarrassing to have to get a fire engine out for where I am," he said.

"There might have been a fire somewhere else that people might have needed them," he said.

"They stayed with me until they got me into a taxi, and then they lifted my wheelchair into the fire engine and followed the taxi on to my place of residence, and got me out of the taxi and put me back into the wheelchair and helped me into the house with the wheelchair."

Mr O'Neill said that the Belfast Trust offers "no help whatsoever" to electric wheelchair users who suffer breakdowns in public places.

"Their answer to it is that you have a manual wheelchair as a backup," he said.

"In my case they are well aware that I can't self-propel a wheelchair, so a manual wheelchair is useless to me, even if I had one.

"I feel that they are treating the disabled people like second class citizens who should be thankful for what you have, and tough.

"The whole idea of an electric wheelchair is to give you your independence, that you can go where able-bodied people can go."

A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said: "We acknowledge this would have been a difficult situation for Mr O'Neill.

"However the approved repairer service is not funded by Health and Social Care Trusts to provide an on-call repair service.

"Service users are advised of this at occupational health assessment and we discuss the importance of having contingency arrangements in place in the event of such an incident.

"The contingency arrangements are risk assessed whenever an occupational therapist supplies their client with a wheelchair.

"The approved repairer will always endeavour if possible to schedule a field service technician to call at short notice to attend to a repair request at the service user's home address," the spokesperson added.

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