In April NHS wheelchair services in England are set to undergo one of the biggest shifts in years. The old wheelchair voucher system will be replaced by a more flexible scheme which will impact on wheelchair service providers and private dealers. In this special report AMP speaks with the national project lead, Kate Buffery, to hear more about personal wheelchair budgets and what they mean for the industry and the businesses within it.
Kate Buffery, NHS England’s senior programme manager for the personalisation of wheelchair services, has been working with the BHTA to communicate the changes to the industry. She confirmed to AMP that from a provider point-of-view that contracts with CCGs will remain largely unchanged, as personal wheelchair budgets build on the functionality of both options, independent and partnership, available through the original voucher scheme.
“There are lots of different ways of commissioning wheelchair services and that doesn’t change this, CCGs will still have their contractual situations,” she said.
But CCGs may start to slightly change the things they look for in providers when they put a wheelchair contract out for tender. While the cost, quality and user experience of the service remains paramount, Buffery explained that CCGs will now be considering how well providers can meet the requirements of personal wheelchair budgets, which includes personalised assessments, shared decision-making integration with wider services and greater choice.
“We have one area that has already gone out to tender and had personal wheelchair budgets as one of the weighted questions,” she said.
“The providers that were competing for that contract award had to think about personalisation. I think it was interesting because previously [personalisation] hadn’t been weighted in, it might have been more focused on finance, whereas now we’re pleased to see that people are including personalisation as part of their contract. I think it’s something that potential bidders will need to be aware of and that’s really part of what we’re trying to communicate.”
The NHS’s new model service specification, released in July 2017, states that from April CCGs are “expected to start to develop their local personal wheelchair budget offer to replace the existing voucher system as part of their personal health budget rollout plans”.
Under the new scheme, which changes the way in which equipment can be funded, CCGs will work with service-users to design more personalised care packages with the aim of getting them a more suitable wheelchair for their needs — which could, providers will be pleased to know, even mean a higher-spec model.