Disabled children waiting too long for NHS wheelchairs

This article was taken from:https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/14/disabled-children-waiting-too-long-for-nhs-wheelchairs

By Haroon Siddique

NHS England misses target for delivery of wheelchairs to more than 5,000 children

Thousands of disabled children in England who need a wheelchair are waiting more than the four-month target for the equipment to be delivered, analysis has revealed.

The NHS standard is for children to receive a wheelchair within 18 weeks from the time of referral, but in 2017-18 it was missed for more than 5,100 children, according to analysis published on Tuesday in the Health Service Journal (HSJ).

That equates to 82% of eligible children receiving their wheelchairs on time, compared with the target of 92%. NHS England has set a more ambitious target of 100% by the end of 2018-19, although the latest figures suggest commissioners will struggle to hit it.

About 20 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) missed the target for more than half of eligible children, compared with 10 in the previous year. But there was also an increase in the number of CCGs achieving 100% – 12 compared with five in 2016-17.

The NHS wheelchair charter, which was drawn up by campaigners before being adopted by NHS England, states that access and provision should be equal for all, “irrespective of age or postcode”.

Dave Bracher, campaigns manager at the Spinal Injuries Association, told HSJ: “These alarming statistics show a continued widespread postcode lottery that is affecting some of the most vulnerable disabled children in society, including those with spinal cord injuries.

“These delays inevitably affect a child’s rehabilitation and daily life – such as attending school, contributing to family and being with friends, and therefore has significant long-term consequences”.

The former Paralympian Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who campaigned for NHS England to adopt the wheelchair charter, said its adoption had been a big step forward but there was room for major improvement.

“If a child doesn’t have the right chair it means they cannot go to school, it means children are harder to handle for parents, it means potentially more respite care,” she told HSJ.

In 2016-17, the first year NHS England began collecting performance data against the 18-week target, it was met in 81% of cases.

West Suffolk CCG met the target in only 35% of cases last year, making it one of the worst performers, but said its performance had hit 100% in the current year.

The data also revealed worrying statistics in relation to children with high or specialist needs.

More than 4,200 children, two-fifths of all those with high needs requiring wheelchairs, had to wait more than nine weeks in 2017-18 to receive their equipment once their needs had been assessed – a rise of about 6% compared with 2016-17.

Another 5,105 children waited more than nine weeks for a specialist prescription to be signed off once they had been referred to a wheelchair service. This amounted to 36% of all children with high and specialist needs who applied for a chair, a figure that had not improved since the previous year.

A spokeswoman for NHS Clinical Commissioners said its guidance had sought to improve outcomes for patients needing wheelchairs “within the current financial context and demand pressures they are facing”.

An NHS England spokesman said: “The new target has been introduced to drive improvements in access to and availability of wheelchairs for children across every part of the country. However, there will be cases, for example, where children chose bespoke wheelchairs, which may take longer to arrive.”

Last month, the British Red Cross claimed a UK-wide shortage of wheelchairs was causing people to become housebound and isolated. It also identified that wheelchair availability was subject to a “postcode lottery”.

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