The British Red Cross is celebrating the success of its long-term advocacy goal to enable everyone in Scotland to have short-term access to a wheelchair when they need one.
After a two-year campaign, the Scottish Government has agreed to introduce new measures that, once in place, will mean that people across Scotland who need a wheelchair in the short term will receive one from their local Health and Social Care Partnership. Referrals will be quicker and wheelchairs will be free.
The Red Cross is the largest supplier of wheelchairs in Scotland, with over 5,000 loaned out in a typical non-Covid year.
However, research for the Red Cross found that too many people requiring a wheelchair were unable to access one – from the Red Cross, other voluntary organisations or the NHS. For those who were not provided with a wheelchair, but experienced a mobility need relating to an injury, accident, fall, surgery or a medical condition, the majority (65%) felt a significant negative impact on their quality of life.
The charity also found inconsistencies across health boards with a medical model of provision that would only supply a wheelchair if there was a long term need and then only after a specialist assessment.
The Red Cross argued that health and social care services should improve the provision of short-term wheelchairs by exploring ways to deliver short-term wheelchair loans in a more consistent and joined up manner to the people who need them. It urged the Scottish government to issue new guidance to bring about this change.
In 2019, with support from across political parties, Jackie Baillie MSP proposed new legislation in the Scottish Parliament for a consistent provision of wheelchairs across all Health Boards.
Following consultation and further discussions, the Scottish Government agreed and committed to including wheelchair provision in its guidance to Health Boards which will be rolled out in the coming months. Consequently, Jackie Baillie withdrew her bill last month.
Naomi Phillips, director of Policy and Advocacy at the British Red Cross said: “Across our work relating to health and social care, we see the negative impact of not being able to access a wheelchair when needed. People may become socially isolated, find they are unable to get to important medical appointments or work, or suffer from the well-founded fear of falling. We also see the positive impacts when people are able to access the right wheelchair at the right time.
“Jackie Baillie and the Scottish Government are to be congratulated on agreeing to introduce a duty on health boards to provide short-term wheelchairs. It really is a huge development for patients and their families across Scotland and the Red Cross looks forward to working with health boards as the roll-out progresses.”