It could be made law in Scotland for the NHS to provide wheelchairs on a short-term basis for people with temporary mobility problems if proposed legislation is pushed through successfully.
Currently only some wheelchair services offer equipment on a temporary basis and it is not compulsory for the NHS to provide wheelchairs to people who are immobile for less than six months.
A Scottish Labour minister has suggested that people with short-term mobility problems should not have to purchase a wheelchair privately or source one from a charity and that the NHS should have a duty to provide temporary equipment.
In a freedom of information request, MSP Jackie Baillie discovered that just one NHS wheelchair provider in Scotland was able to provide wheelchairs on a short-term basis in certain circumstances.
This was despite criteria stating that access to NHS wheelchair services must be permanent.
Ms Baillie has put forward a new member’s bill to introduce new legislation, which she hopes to gain support for in a public consultation which launched yesterday.
She hopes to tackle what she sees as inconsistent and varied short-term wheelchair provision, which she suggested often depends on an individual’s knowledge.
In response, the Scottish government said that it was planning on “developing guidance on the short-term loan of wheelchairs” as part of its review of the equipment provision, due to take place this year.
Ms Baillie said that immobility can be “isolating and often leaves a person with impaired mobility wholly dependent on others”.
“However, there is no duty on the NHS, or any other public body, to provide short-term wheelchairs to anyone with a mobility problem that is expected to last for less than six months.
“It means that a patient well enough to be discharged from hospital but with a mobility problem that would require access to a wheelchair for a short period of time simply wouldn’t get one.
“This leaves patients either privately buying a wheelchair or relying on a charity providing one.”
Ms Baillie said that making it compulsory for the NHS to offer short-term provision would be a “relatively small change” which could make a “significant difference to people’s lives”.
She added: “Not being able to access a wheelchair when you have a clear short-term mobility need can lead to a delay in discharge from hospital, prolong your rehabilitation, slow down your reablement and have a negative impact on your emotional well-being, your social connections and your financial situation.
“Creating a statutory duty to provide access to short-term wheelchairs, where it is appropriate to do so, is a relatively small change but it is one that can make a significant difference to people’s lives.”
The British Red Cross is one of very few bodies that offer short-term wheelchair provision but because of financial pressures it is having to redistribute its budget, which means it has axed a large number of equipment centres.
Fiona MacLeod, from the British Red Cross, said: “Through our services, we see every day the significant difference that accessing a wheelchair can have.
“Not only can it help people get out and about and maintain some sense of their life but it can help them to get to work, reduce their dependency on their family and friends, and sometimes speed up their recovery time.”
Meanwhile, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “We will soon be developing guidance on the short-term loan of wheelchairs as part of a wider review of the national guidance on equipment and adaptations, due to take place this year.
“This follows an initial scoping exercise and pilot work with a health and social care partnership last year.
“We welcome Ms Baillie’s interest in this and look forward to seeing the responses from the consultation on this draft member’s bill.”