Wheelchair user rescued by fire crew hits out at health trust's repairs policy
A disabled man who was forced to call 999 after his electric wheelchair broke down outside Belfast City Hall has said he is "living on a knife edge" and afraid to leave his home, after his health trust failed to update its repair policy.
Last Friday, Daniel O'Neill (66), who suffers from a spinal condition and cannot walk, was forced to call the emergency services for help, as Belfast Health Trust does not offer an on-call emergency repair service.
He had been travelling in his electric wheelchair in the city centre when a castor broke off, and it ran into a railing. However, when he rang the Trust's approved breakdown service, he said he was told it only operated from 9am-5pm on weekdays, and that it could not assist him in a public place.
Firefighters helped him into a taxi, and a fire engine containing his wheelchair followed him to his home.
"My wheelchair was fixed on Monday, so I had to spend the weekend using a three-wheeled, broken chair by leaning back so it wouldn't tip over," he said.
"I'm scared to use it now in case it breaks down in a public place again.
"I've lost confidence in my chair, and every time I hit a bump I worry it will break.
"I'm living on a knife edge and I don't feel comfortable. An electric wheelchair is supposed to give you freedom."
Former Anglesey resident Mr O'Neill described the wheelchair repair service here as "third world" and said he believed it "discriminated against people with disabilities".
"I haven't had any contact with the Belfast Trust since a phone call when my chair was repaired, so they haven't changed their policy," he said. "I asked them what I would do if it happened again, and they told me to use a manual wheelchair, which I told them I can't use. They said that's all they can offer.
"When I lived in Anglesey they had a 24 hour repair service, seven days a week, which covered all of Wales. Even if I broke down in England I would have been covered. But the system in Northern Ireland's like the third world, it's not functional and it needs updated."
Mr O'Neill asked why, in the case of those who cannot use manual wheelchairs, the Belfast Trust could not temporarily replace the broken chairs with similar electric models.
"I'm sure I'm not the only person in this situation in the whole of Northern Ireland," he added.
A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said that it holds the regional approved repairer contract on behalf of the five Northern Ireland's five health trusts.
They stated: "The service is available 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. A fault reporting phone line and email address is available from 5pm to 11pm, Monday to Friday, and from 8am to 11pm, Saturday, Sunday and on public and bank holidays.
"A reported fault is dealt with within three working days from date or request as per the contract specification.
"However, users are advised that parts occasionally need to be ordered and they should therefore use their back-up manual chair in the interim.
"Under the conditions of loan, users are required to ensure their manual chair is accessible and ready to use at all times. While these scenarios are rare, it is important users take this advice seriously."
The Trust said that temporary powered wheelchair replacements couldn't be provided to users "as wheelchairs must be prescribed specifically to them by their occupational therapist".
"Where possible, an approved repairer will schedule a field service technician to call out to a user at short notice," it said. "Should any user have concerns over their ability to use their manual wheelchair for an interim period they should discuss this with their occupational therapist."