NHS should provide wheelchairs on short-term basis, say Scottish Labour

8 April 2019, 07:15

Disability wheelchair icon on doorpush

People with temporary mobility problems could be provided with a wheelchair for short-term use under proposed new legislation.

The NHS does not currently have a duty to provide short-term wheelchairs to anyone with a mobility problem expected to last for less than six months.

Criteria to access NHS wheelchair services states the mobility need must be permanent.

A freedom of information request by Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie found only one NHS wheelchair provider in Scotland was prepared to provide one on a short-term basis - and only in specific circumstances.

There is no set criteria for how wheelchairs are provided in the short-term.

Ms Baillie suggested that as a result, the provision of short-term wheelchairs is varied, inconsistent and often dependent on an individual's own knowledge.

She is launching a public consultation later on Monday into her Member's Bill to introduce the new legislation.

"Our mobility is something that we often take for granted," Ms Baillie said.

"Being mobile enables us to enjoy our freedom and autonomy, to go out to work, to get about our local community and to visit friends.

"Not being able to get about is very restrictive, it can be isolating and often leaves a person with impaired mobility wholly dependent on others.

"However, there is no duty on the NHS, or any other public body, to provide short-term wheelchairs to anyone with a mobility problem that is expected to last for less than six months."

She added: "It means that a patient well enough to be discharged from hospital but with a mobility problem that would require access to a wheelchair for a short period of time simply wouldn't get one.

"This leaves patients either privately buying a wheelchair or relying on a charity providing one."

The Scottish Labour MSP added introducing legislation to ensure people can temporarily access wheelchairs could have a big impact on lives.

Ms Baillie said: "Not being able to access a wheelchair when you have a clear short-term mobility need can lead to a delay in discharge from hospital, prolong your rehabilitation, slow down your reablement and have a negative impact on your emotional well-being, your social connections and your financial situation.

"Creating a statutory duty to provide access to short-term wheelchairs, where it is appropriate to do so, is a relatively small change but it is one that can make a significant difference to people's lives."

Fiona MacLeod, of the British Red Cross, said: "Through our services, we see every day the significant difference that accessing a wheelchair can have.

"Not only can it help people get out and about and maintain some sense of their life but it can help them to get to work, reduce their dependency on their family and friends, and sometimes speed up their recovery time."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We will soon be developing guidance on the short-term loan of wheelchairs as part of a wider review of the national guidance on equipment and adaptations, due to take place this year.

"This follows an initial scoping exercise and pilot work with a health and social care partnership last year.

"We welcome Ms Baillie's interest in this and look forward to seeing the responses from the consultation on this draft Member's Bill."