Millions of patients missing out on wheelchairs, charity warns
The British Red Cross is calling for statutory provision of short-term wheelchair loans.
Millions of people are being left without wheelchairs as they recover from illness and risk being “trapped” in their own homes, the British Red Cross has warned.
A survey by the charity found 8% of UK adults, the equivalent of an estimated 4.3 million people, may have needed or benefited from the short-term use of a wheelchair or mobility aid in one year.
However just 1% received a short-term loan of up to six months, which can help prevent falls and re-admittance to hospitals.
People are ending up trapped in their homes, becoming isolated and delaying their recovery. Mike Adamson, British Red Cross
The British Red Cross said a lack of information about services, stigma around wheelchair use and a “postcode lottery” are among the reasons people are not getting the right support.
Mike Adamson, chief executive of British Red Cross, said: “It is unacceptable that people with injuries, social care needs or even those with terminal illnesses find themselves scrabbling around to get something so basic.
“Most people have no idea that this issue exists until they are in need of a wheelchair for themselves or a family member.
“Worryingly, our research shows that often people aren’t even offered the option of borrowing a wheelchair.
“Instead of being able to socialise, get to appointments or to work, people are ending up trapped in their homes, becoming isolated and delaying their recovery.”
More than 4,200 people took part in the survey in 2016, with 8.1% having medical or social care needs that could have been helped by the loan of a mobility aid or wheelchair.
A total of 1.1% received support.
The research, published in the Maintaining Mobility report, also found 114 out of 139 NHS wheelchair services surveyed do not provide equipment for short-term use.
“Providing short-term wheelchair loans should be a no-brainer, they reduce recovery time, boost independence and would ultimately save money for both the NHS and social care,” Mr Adamson said.
“A lot of the NHS services we spoke to wanted to provide this service, but can’t.”
The British Red Cross is calling for statutory provision of short-term wheelchair loans and better information for health workers and patients about the benefits of using one.
Last year, the charity loaned 90,000 mobility aids including 60,000 wheelchairs as part of a service it has run since the First World War.
An NHS England spokeswoman said: “Local GP-led health groups are responsible for securing and funding wheelchair services for patients.
“For people with long-term mobility needs, the NHS has introduced personal budgets to give them more choice on the best wheelchair for them.”