The Red Cross has said that to ensure everybody who needs mobility equipment has access to it, there needs to be changes in regulatory frameworks and improvements in service delivery, assessments and information and advice services.
The recommendations come after it published a report yesterday claiming there is a widespread shortage of short-term wheelchair provision in the UK, with many people ‘suffering’ and becoming isolated as a result.
According to the report, despite around 40m UK adults requiring a mobility aid on a short-term basis last year, just 18% of statutory wheelchair providers, around 25 companies, offer short-term equipment.
While the provision of wheelchairs, for long-term use falls under the remit of the NHS, providers are not obliged to meet the need for short-term wheelchair loans, which is generally classified as six months or less.
This lack of statutory duty has particular impact on those needing a wheelchair for a short period of time, the report said.
Despite short-term loans of tens of thousands of wheelchairs per year across the UK, the Red Cross is concerned that an unmet need persists and can have “devastating impact” on people and their ability to recover.
Those unable to access a short-term loan of a mobility aid, including a wheelchair, may be unable to go back to work, may become socially isolated or be at risk of falling, claims the report.
The Red Cross said that evidence shows that the provision of short-term wheelchair loans could save money for hard-pressed statutory services; prevent, reduce and delay the need for further care and support; aid recovery; enable independence; and hasten hospital discharge.
The report complained of a postcode lottery-style provision, with only providers in some areas offering wheelchairs for short-term use. Equally, it said, certain health conditions are eligible for short-term wheelchair loans in some areas, but not in others.
The study found that those who had accessed a short-term wheelchair loan were very positive about their experience. 90% said the wheelchair was ‘very helpful’ and had enabled them to carry out day-to-day activities.
Those with an unmet mobility need had been affected in a range of ways, with the majority (65%) experiencing significant negative impacts on their quality of life. These effects ranged from having to stop working to becoming increasingly dependent on family and friends, or becoming socially isolated and housebound.
Respondents with a short-term mobility need were more likely than the general population to be retired, out of work, in the lowest socioeconomic group, and to report that their health was poor or very poor, or that they have a long-term health condition.
One-fifth of respondents who saw the potential benefits of a wheelchair believed that using one would have reduced the likelihood of further injury.
The study found that 8% per cent of respondents had experienced a short-term mobility need but had not accessed a wheelchair, and 44% of this group thought that they would have benefited from a wheelchair loan since this would have allowed them to leave the house to go on errands, attend hospital and GP appointments, and generally get out and about.
However, of those respondents who did not access a wheelchair and thought they would have benefitted from one, 42% said they did not want to use a wheelchair anyway. There could be many reasons for this, the survey suggested, but participants in the case studies mentioned the stigma around wheelchair use, and that it can be seen as a sign of ageing and/or weakness.