An NHS wheelchair service run by a trust in Bradford has been able to provide end-users with advanced equipment to meet their needs without them having to purchase expensive models from private dealers.
Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is using the expertise of a specialist rehabilitation engineer with a background in the mobility sector to make modified equipment, for example powerchairs operated by a Playstation controller.
The trust said engineer Dean Hobson is the only person in the district with the knowledge needed to design and construct hi-tech wheelchairs for residents with some of the most challenging health conditions.
Standard NHS wheelchairs can weigh up to 20kg and can be unsuitable for people with complex health needs.
Hobson and his colleagues at the trust’s wheelchair services department, are using some of the latest tech to allow residents to access tailor-made state-of-the-art powerchairs.
Hobson, who has spent 12 years working on mobility equipment, said he works with each person and wheelchair suppliers to get “the best results possible”.
His aim is to marry wheelchairs with the latest technology to meet very specific needs.
He said: “I don’t like to give in. The technology is moving forward and the step changes are getting bigger all the time. Our job is to give people the best wheelchairs possible.”
Hobson recently finished a chair for a teenage gaming fan which is operated by a Playstation controller, and has adapted others for patients with limited mobility which feature a touchscreen controlled by a joystick which needs just 10 grams of pressure to operate.
The latest technology is also used to ensure each wheelchair provides the maximum level of comfort, with Hobson and his colleagues using pressure mapping technology to examine patients’ seated posture and identify areas prone to pressure sores.
The information they glean will then help identify the best type of cushion for them.
In some cases they will also use a hi-tech ‘beanbag’ to create a 3D model and help the seat manufacturers mould a cushion into the most comfortable shape.
Hobson added: “Everyone is different and we need to make sure each chair is the best it can be for each patient.
“In the past we used plaster of Paris, but things have changed and we now aim to provide a really intimate fit.
“It’s not so much about comfort but to prevent pressure ulcers. The more surface area you can sit on, the better. The seat we use varies according to the disability and it’s all about being sat with a good posture.”
The trust serves around 6,000 wheelchair users and it has managed to reduced waiting times by half.
Hobson sees between six and eight people at his weekly clinic at Bradford Wheelchair Assessment Centre in order to prepare and adjust the chairs he is working on.
He also travels to wheelchair-users’ own homes if getting to the assessment centre is difficult, and will recommend modifications to furniture and lifestyle which will help improve their domestic lives too.
Image: Dean Hobson / Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust