National campaign calls for wheelchair service turnaround

July 24th 2015 category Healthcare News

Last week the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance launched its campaign demanding better wheelchair services.

The Right Chair, Right Time, Right Now campaign has been set in motion in response to woefully variable assessment and provision across the UK for the 1.2 million wheelchair users.

Not only that, but there are long delays in repairs and equipment, poorly thought through provision plans and patient pathways, confusing information, restrictive and inflexible funding and minimal integration of services.

Which is why the Alliance is fighting for:

  • Reduced waiting times
  • Delivery of the right chair first time around
  • Consistent wheelchair service standards across the country

And I have pledged my support by signing the Wheelchair Charter because I know exactly what a vital difference these three things make to the quality of life of not only service users, but their family and carers.

Bringing this into sharp focus is motor neurone disease (MND). In the course of my work alongside patients with this rapidly progressing condition, I have come across countless times when they have been let down. Often by the time the specialist equipment they need arrives, it’s too late. This can have tragic consequences for families who are desperate to care for their own loved ones at home and simply need the right equipment to do so.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and CCGs must understand how important it is to patient outcomes to get this right, because the alternative is spiralling costs for CCGs and calamitous experiences for patients. When a patient doesn’t get the chair they need on time the knock on effects for both care and health needs can be significant and costly.

To address this in one local area I helped work with what some time ago was Gloucestershire PCT to introduce a more streamlined referral process for MND patients. By doing this wheelchair waiting times dramatically improved from 8 weeks to 2.8 weeks in just under two years. Since then we’ve had wonderful feedback from patients who have been rapidly assessed and got exactly the chair they need really quickly.

At the time Jean Waters who is a wheelchair user and also now a member of the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance told us: “People were waiting at least three months to be assessed for a wheelchair. The service has improved quite markedly.’

This was some time ago, and despite wheelchair service issues being on the radar for a long time real momentum only really began in early 2014 when former NHS England Chief Executive, Sir David Nicholson, made a pledge to improve wheelchair services across England. Since then the NHS launched a campaign called ‘My Voice, My Wheelchair, My Life’ to address the issue by gathering together service users, clinicians and commissioners.

This is where the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance comes in – it was set up earlier this year to keep pushing for improvements and to build on what has been achieved already.

The Alliance is passionate about the importance of gathering a national dataset to enable transparency and benchmarking and to drive improvements – something that NHS England will be doing from July 2015, which is a fantastic development.

NHS England are also doing their bit to support commissioners by piloting a tariff for wheelchairs to allow commissioners the flexibility to move away from simple contracts, as well as working with CCGs to improve their services by sharing examples of best practice.

But much of the responsibility lies with CCGs themselves to take the initiative to prioritise the delivery of the high-quality, joined-up wheelchair services that patients deserve. Simple measures like harnessing data to uncover where problems lie in the system can help identify strategies like the ones we implemented in Gloucestershire to help carry forward significant QIPP benefits and drastically improve patient wellbeing.

About the Author

Sue Thomas

Sue Thomas

Chief Executive for Commissioning Excellence
View more posts by Sue Thomas

July 24th 2015 category Healthcare News

Commissioning Excellence

As one of NHS England’s recognised niche specialist commissioning support providers, we offer a full range services to assist you in improving patient outcomes. Our experience covers all long term conditions, with a particular specialism in the field of neurology.

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