Thousands of children forced to wait months for wheelchairs

Thousands of children forced to wait months for wheelchairs
Thousands of disabled children are being forced to wait months for a wheelchair amid “alarming” NHS failures, charities have warned. New figures reveal more than 5,000 cases in which those suffering from spinal injuries and other life-changing disabilities were left without the right equipment for months.

Four years ago the NHS signed a wheelchair charter which promised that access and provision should be equal for all “irrespective of age or postcode”. But the new analysis shows one in five children in need of a wheelchair are waiting more than 18 weeks for it, with a postcode lottery in provision across the country.

In some parts of the country less than one in three children in need of the equipment received it within this time. And the figures show waiting times lengthened for children with the highest needs, and those requiring specialist chairs. Campaigners said the failings meant children were being left stuck at home, unable to go to school – and in some cases forced into respite care because parents could not cope.

Dave Bracher, campaigns manager at the Spinal Injuries Association, said: “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”.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

  • An ageing population. There are one million more people over the age of 65 than five years ago. This has caused a surge in demand for medical care.

  • Cuts to budgets for social care. While the NHS budget has been protected, social services for home helps and other care have fallen by 11 per cent in five years. This has caused record levels of “bedblocking”; people with no medical need to be in hospital are stuck there because they can’t be supported at home.

  • Staff shortages. While hospital doctor and nurse numbers have risen over the last decade, they have not kept pace with the rise in demand. Meanwhile 2016 saw record numbers of GP practices close, displacing patients on to A&E departments as they seek medical advice.

  • Lifestyle factors.  Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, a poor diet with not enough fruit and vegetables and not doing enough exercise are all major reasons for becoming unwell and needing to rely on our health services. Growing numbers of overweight children show this problem is currently set to continue.

Around 82 per cent of eligible children received a wheelchair within 18 weeks in 2017-18, against a target of 92 per cent, according to the recently published official data. This was a slight improvement from 81 per cent in the previous year, but far off a target of 100 per cent set for next March. Children with high or specialist needs waited longer for wheelchairs in 2017-18 then they did in the year prior, the analysis by Health Service Journal shows.

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 wheelchair once their needs had been assessed – a rise of around 6 per cent in a year. Children in Darlington, Rotherham, Portsmouth, South Lincolnshire, West Hampshire, Southampton, and West Suffolk were among those suffering the longest delays. Read More...

James Koroma