Disabled people who want to buy high-end mobility equipment not available on the NHS with their personal health budgets should be given more support by local wheelchair services to purchase privately.
That’s according to a newly published report based on the findings of a steering group involving commissioners, OTs and wheelchair service-users, which floated the idea of an approved provider list and NHS sanctioning to weed out “unscrupulous” firms taking advantage of vulnerable people.
The group, run by Norwich, North Norfolk and South Norfolk CCGs, looked at how personal wheelchair budgets can be best implemented and decided one way to improve the rollout of the new system is to offer better support and advice to end-users who choose to use their budgets to purchase privately.
Paying for and fitting non-NHS-supplied parts is currently difficult, the report outlined. It said that the complexity of parts and attachments varies, which makes it hard for NHS wheelchair services to support.
It added that service-users can be in a vulnerable place and said that the “mis-selling of equipment does happen”.
The report, which is based on a number of feedback sessions, noted that people do want the opportunity to purchase chairs from outside the NHS system but claimed that doing so “is a struggle”.
“Services could offer more support when people want to purchase non-standard chairs and attachments,” it said.
“There was agreement that more change and innovation was needed to improve choice. People felt more providers should be encouraged to supply chairs and equipment purchased with a [personal wheelchair budget].
“An approved provider list would stop unscrupulous suppliers from taking advantage of people when they are in a vulnerable place. Is there a role for the NHS in sanctioning purchases and ensuring exploitation does not happen?
“There needs to be greater recognition that some add-ons are very expensive. People want to be supported to make informed choices.”
Feedback from wheelchair service-users also found that it is common for people not to know where to go or who to contact to have their equipment maintained and repaired.
The report said that some companies also charge a call-out fee for repairs, even if the chair is under warranty. Members of the steering group agreed that this practice needs to be challenged.
“Most people are happy to be responsible for maintenance but need good information on where to go for this at the appropriate time/as required,” the report said.
“There was also a sense that if people want a bespoke chair, they should be responsible for its maintenance. Some people felt certain repairs could be seen as DIY, for example tyre repairs.
“Some people are thinking creatively about this already, for example using bike maintenance specialists for some servicing. The workshop recognised that lots of places could potentially offer repair.
“There was a suggestion that Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust could potentiality provide a fuller repair service which catered for chairs that were not supplied from their range.
“On paying for maintenance, there was a broad consensus that receiving an annual (rather than lifetime) maintenance payment was most helpful for people. This approach gives wheelchair services a reason to be in touch annually and see how people are doing.”
A number of pilots and wheelchair service-user feedback workshops have taken place in the last year as CCGs across the UK grapple with how best to implement the new personal health budget system, which is designed to offer people more control over the care and equipment they receive.