The amount of money raised for wheelchairs on JustGiving shot up by around 78% between 2015 and 2016, from £365,000 to £1.8m, indicating that people are increasingly turning to dealers for equipment rather than relying on NHS services.
The new figures, seen by the Guardian, show that in the first half of this year there has been a 60% rise in donations to disabled people requesting funding for wheelchairs compared to the same period last year.
Although some of the data may be due to better awareness of the crowfunding website, there is an indication that the upwards trend is continuing.
“JustGiving is often where people come when they have nowhere else to turn,” Rhys Goode, public relations director at JustGiving, told the newspaper. “It’s remarkable to see the increase in people having to crowdfund for new wheelchairs – an item that’s so essential to their quality of life.”
The trend in people crowdfunding to buy wheelchairs privately from retailers comes as the NHS struggles to cope with the demand for the equipment. Limited resources mean people often have to wait longer than the maximum waiting time for a wheelchair, and sometimes the aids are unsuitable or too heavy for the user when they arrive.
Last month, doctors at the British Medical Association (BMA) discussed the issue at their representative meeting in Bournemouth. Doctors recognise the trend in people turning to online funding and have now called for users to have “timely access to chairs suitable for their individual conditions”.
At the meeting, Dr Hannah Barham-Brown, a junior doctor in London, said that standard NHS chairs weigh around 20kg which makes them unsuitable for many patients.
At the meeting she said: “I had to crowdfund my wheelchair halfway through medical school when I was told that it was going to cost around £2,000 to get this chair and the NHS were able to offer me a £140 voucher or a chair which was not remotely ergonomic.
“That was ultimately going to do me more harm than good so my best friend set up a crowdfunding page for me and managed to raise £2,000 in 24 hours. NHS chairs are very heavy and very hard to manoeuvre. In terms of public transport I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere in an NHS chair unless there was someone with me helping me. You need to be pushed. More and more I’m seeing on social media pleas from people begging for support to buy wheelchairs, not only chairs like this – lightweight, self-propelling chairs – but electric chairs.”
Dr Barham-Brown added that publicly provided wheelchairs are now hard to access because of stricter guidelines and increasingly privatised wheelchair services.