The new personal wheelchair budgets system being implemented across the UK this month is a step in the right direction but there are concerns it could be more of a rebadging exercise rather than a real change that will overhaul wheelchair provision.
That’s the view of Recare’s boss, Richard Holland-Oakes, who feels that there needs to be more uniformity across the entire system in terms of the amount of money service-users receive towards their mobility equipment.
The personal wheelchair budgets system is a new provision model designed to offer end-users more flexibility over the funding they receive for equipment and it is thought it could potentially lead to a greater demand for higher-end, modular products.
NHS chiefs have been trialling the scheme at a number of CCGs and have been seeking support from the mobility industry. But there are still a large number of sceptics within the mobility sector and it is a hotly-debated topic.
Holland-Oakes told AMP that while personal wheelchair budgets are a positive step forward, it is “unfortunate” that many of the wheelchair provision services around the country, of which there are around 160, are working differently to one another, he believes.
“For [the new system] to be successful, we have to have a level playing field. So if there’s somebody in Middlesbrough with a certain disability, they should be getting the same amount from a personal wheelchair budget as someone in Portsmouth. But at the moment, it’s all over the place.
“The amount someone gets in one area under the scheme could be just a few hundred pounds. If I went across border, the personal wheelchair budget could be double the amount. And if I work in some wheelchair services, they will provide what is clinically needed without even issuing a voucher.
“Until it’s unified and has a level playing field, I really can’t see it being 100% successful.”
Holland-Oakes suggested that a set budget amount, similar to how glasses or hearing aids are provided on the NHS, could work with the wheelchair model.
A key concern is also the way in which the country is split financially between North and South, with service-users in southern England generally more able to fund better equipment on their own.
“You do tend to feel that some people are not getting the same conditions and it’s not really fair if the wheelchair service and commissioners are providing what’s clinically needed in one area but a service in another place is only able to give the user a few hundred pounds.”
He added: “There are too many differences in the spectrum and it doesn’t meet the criteria. And I think until that starts to knit together, I don’t really see the personal wheelchair budget being any more successful than the voucher system has been in the past.”
But Holland-Oakes understands the system is changing regardless and is gearing his business up to make the most of personal wheelchair budgets. Recare recently opened a new showroom in Northamptonshire which operates on the same site as one of Millbrook Healthcare’s wheelchair provision services.
The new shop, Holland-Oakes said, allows Recare to “spread its wings” and noted that commissioners like the idea of having a retail outlet available to service-users close to the wheelchair service in case they are able to fund more specialist equipment that better meets their clinical needs.
Holland-Oakes explained: “At the new site we work in harmony with Millbrook. They offer an excellent service and there’s nothing wrong with [its service]. But there are some people who don’t necessarily get what they need because they don’t meet the criteria and the criteria is quite stringent.
“You’ll find most wheelchair services are unable to fund a raiser powerchair, for example. They’ll fund tilt-in-space or elevated leg rest because that might be a clinical benefit. But a raiser is a social feature. I know we shouldn’t be looking at it like that but the wheelchair services are absolutely right, it has no clinical need, it has a social need.”
The new outlet aims to fill the equipment provision that wheelchair services are largely unable to and Holland-Oakes believes it could be a successful model that the industry will see more of in the near future.
He noted that wheelchair services excel at contract work and providing equipment en masse, but are generally less able to provide the same level of individual attention as private retailers.