The chief executive of mobility equipment charity Whizz-Kidz wants the industry’s dealers to see personal wheelchair budgets (PWBs) as an opportunity to increase their focus on customer needs and diversify their product ranges.
PWBs were introduced recently to replace the old wheelchair voucher system and there had been some concern among mobility dealers that the new budgets would simply be a rebadging exercise.
But chief executive of Whizz-Kidz, Ruth Owen MBE, has argued that PWBs are not a rebranded version of the voucher system and are instead focused on giving wheelchair users more control over and choice about the direction of their care.
Ms Owen, who is a wheelchair user herself, told AMP that the assessment process for a PWB is far more holistic than the voucher system.
“It focuses not only on a person’s clinical needs, but their social needs as well,” she said. “NHS wheelchair services should be working collaboratively with their clients to understand what they want to achieve with their mobility equipment.
“Secondly, PWBs significantly expand provision within the NHS, offering wheelchair users more options when it comes to selecting their mobility equipment.
“With the old system, if a person did not want the wheelchair the NHS prescribed for them, they were essentially given a voucher and sent on their way to find a wheelchair themselves from retailer.”
Ms Owen said that although Whizz-Kidz primarily deals directly with wheelchair manufacturers, she hopes that mobility retailers will see PWBs as an opportunity to focus on the needs of individual wheelchair users and think about how they can best respond to them.
She said: “PWBs offer wheelchair retailers and wheelchair suppliers the opportunity to ensure their range of equipment is varied enough to keep up with changing demand from wheelchair users.
“Wheelchair retailers and suppliers need to be able to respond to this effectively, and can do so by working closing with NHS wheelchair services to support clients.
“Individuals having more say in the equipment they get should not be seen as a challenge. Rather it should be seen as an opportunity for both retailers and the NHS to listen to their clients, understand their holistic needs, and support them to get the right wheelchair at the right time.”
There are hopes among dealers that the phasing in of PWBs might mean an increase in demand for higher-end mobility products.
Last month, it was revealed that thousands more people will receive PWBs in the next five years.
Around 40,000 people currently benefit from NHS personal health budgets but access to the system will increase to 200,000 by 2024.