NHS wheelchair services need to undergo a cultural shift if providers are to fully grasp the opportunity personal wheelchair budgets (PWBs) present.
That’s according to a national charity that helped to trial the new budget system at Tower Hamlets CCG and that has put forward recommendations on how PWBs should be implemented, based on its findings in the last year.
PWBs replaced the wheelchair voucher scheme last year and are designed to give end-users more choice in the type of wheelchair they have.
Ruth Owen, chief executive of Whizz-Kidz, a national charity for young disabled people, said that if NHS wheelchair services are to commit to increasing wheelchair users’ independence and choice through PWBs, clinicians must effectively communicate with people about what they want and why.
“You wouldn’t buy a car without working out what you need it for and going for a test drive. Why should a wheelchair user be any different?” Ms Owen said.
Based on learnings from CCGs that have trialled PWBs over the last year, Ms Owen said that clinicians have found three ways to implement the new system successfully.
Her primary point was that the new PWB system must not be approached like the old voucher scheme if it is to be implemented successfully across the UK.
She said that organisations and providers must “embrace” the concept behind PWBs. “It’s not the same as the voucher scheme so don’t approach it like it is.
“Be committed to supporting your client to have the right to make a choice about the wheelchair they want.”
PWBs are designed to allow end-users more choice in which specific equipment they purchase. This often means they are supported to purchase their own more suitable chair privately, which is often higher-end and better suited to their clinical and social needs.
Ms Owen added that PWBs, which are being gradually rolled out across CCGs, need to be implemented in tranches first.
“Tower Hamlets service started by using personal wheelchair budgets for power wheelchairs to get used to the paperwork and conversations with clients.”
Her third recommendation was to be prepared to keep changing things as you get used to PWBs.
“We changed all the assessment forms several times to aid natural conversations with client about their goals and to ensure the wording is client-friendly.”
Jon Owen, transformation manager at Tower Hamlets CCG, said: “Personal wheelchair budgets are a powerful tool in improving services, giving people a greater say in how they achieve their goals and aspirations.
“The decision to extend the legal right to PWBs is welcome news, and will hopefully lead to a positive shift in the way we deliver wheelchair services across the country.”
So far, 551 people have successfully used a personal wheelchair budget to get a wheelchair that suits their lifestyle.
Ms Owen’s comments come as the government announced tens of thousands more people will receive personal health budgets in the next five years, many of which will be used to purchase high-end manual and powered wheelchairs from private providers.
Around 40,000 people currently benefit from the scheme, which is designed to offer individuals more choice in the type of care they receive from the NHS, but access to the system will increase to 200,000 by 2024.
NHS bodies have been trying to rally support within the mobility trade for the new PWB system in the last year and many businesses are on-board, believing it could lead to more sales of higher-value equipment.
However, others have been more sceptical and expressed concern that PWBs could turn out to simply be a rebadging exercise.
The new system does not use any new money, but is just a different way of spending current funding available.