Published: 4th August 2015
Author: Acceleris

Wheelchair Services: Demolishing the barriers

I have Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. The main effect of this is that I am not able to walk more than a few steps. Since 2010 I have relied increasingly on a wheelchair for getting around, and now I never leave the house without wheels.

Alongside mobility problems, I also experience MS-related fatigue. I have no physical strength and I tire very quickly, and start to feel really ill, after the tiniest exertion. This means that I cannot propel myself in a manual wheelchair.

When I approached my local NHS Wheelchair Service for a wheelchair, the response was prompt and friendly. I was very clear about the fact that I have MS, and this was very well understood by the Wheelchair Service representatives who dealt with me.

The wheelchair I received was an Echo 2000. This wheelchair is hardly distinguishable from the first folding, tubular steel wheelchair, designed and created in 1932 by Harry Jennings. It is heavy, dreadfully clunky and inefficient, and I cannot propel myself in it at all. I can only use it if I have someone with me to push me around, and because the handles are at a fixed height and not adjustable, they are too low for my partner, who is over 6 feet tall and quickly develops back problems when he pushes me around. In addition the absurd serrated hand-grips give him blisters and sores on his hands.

This wheelchair is completely unfit for purpose. Why was I supplied with it, when the NHS Wheelchair Service knew all the relevant information about my impairment and my health condition? I am scandalised that – after I have paid National Insurance for over 34 years – this antiquated and unusable device has been dumped on me.

After a couple of years I contacted the Wheelchair Service, explaining that I was unable to go out independently with the wheelchair they had given me, and that I needed a powered wheelchair to achieve real independence. The response was swift and brutal: you are not entitled to any sort of powered wheelchair if you don’t need it indoors. As I am still able to lumber effortfully from room to room on my legs, clinging to walls and furniture as I go, restling frequently, I am not allowed to have the powered wheelchair I really need, to allow me the freedom and the independence to leave the house on my own.

I have been very ill-served by the NHS Wheechair Service. It is ridiculous that I have been given a heavy, dreadfully inefficient manual wheelchair designed over 80 years ago, which I am clearly unable to use independently, and that no consideration whatsoever has been given to my independence and to my very real limitations as a person with progressive MS.

I feel as if the NHS Wheelchair Service has been covering its ears while singing ‘La la la I can’t hear you!’ at the same time as adopting a lazy, simplistic and penny-pinching approach to its wheelchair provision policies.

Because the NHS has failed to provide me with any wheelchair which could give me the independence I need and am capable of with the right solution, I have had to pay for my own solution, at very great expense. This consists of power-assist motors inside the hubs of the wheels of a new, lightweight manual wheelchair. I propel the manual wheelchair in the normal way, and the power-assist motors do over 90% of the work. In this way I am able to leave the house and lead a fully independent life.

I would like to see a complete overhaul of the NHS Wheelchair Service, in which a new approach to wheelchair provision is developed. This new approach must include:

  • Fully understanding any impairments or health conditions the client has, so that a mobility solution can be tailored exactly to the client’s needs and abilities
  • Fully understanding the needs of friends and family members who might regularly push the client’s wheelchair
  • Providing a wheelchair solution which exactly meets the needs of the client, and gives the client the maximum possible independence given his/her impairments and/or health conditions.
  • Adopting a flexible approach, so that a wide range of needs and abilities can be met with a wide range of solutions, rather than a simple template-based list of solutions based on a few very crude rules.

With its current policies the NHS Wheelchair Service is in many cases creating and perpetuating the old-style barriers which used to keep disabled people locked away between four walls.

Instead of erecting barriers, the Wheelchair Service should be demolishing them by providing each person with the solution that exactly meets their needs and gives them the freedom to take part in society like everyone else.

All this is why I’m supporting the RIGHT CHAIR RIGHT TIME RIGHT NOW Campaign and Charter


Wheelchair User

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Categories: Experiences