Baroness Grey-Thompson heads new campaign aimed at securing a better deal for wheelchair users

wheelchair leadership alliance

Paralympian launches national Wheelchair Leadership Alliance to ensure wheelchair users get the right chair at the right time 

A new national alliance aimed at ensuring a better deal for wheelchair users has been set up under the leadership of one of the UK’s best known and highly decorated Paralympic athletes, Baroness Grey-Thompson.

Whilst the public have thrilled to the medal-winning exploits of the country’s wheelchair athletes at the Paralympics and other global sporting events using hi-tec, high performance chairs, the experience of thousands of people who use a wheelchair in their everyday lives could not be more different; they frequently face long delays for provision of wheelchairs that are often unsuitable for their needs which can lead to further medical complications.

Now, the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance has been set up to help transform the quality and effectiveness of services for wheelchair users. It was formally launched this week at the House of Lords.

Chaired by Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson, the Alliance brings together senior, influential people and representatives of key stakeholder groups under the united goal of improving wheelchair services to ensure that people get ’the right chair at the right time right now.’

There are around 1.2 million wheelchair users in England, roughly 2 per cent of UK population, and too many have to wait too long for a wheelchair or receive a wheelchair that is suitable for their needs.

The Alliance has begun work to set out its objectives for wheelchair service improvement in England which will include the development of a national awareness campaign ‘RIGHT CHAIR RIGHT TIME RIGHT NOW’ and the creation of a wheelchair charter. The campaign and the charter will be formally launched during the summer 2015.

The Alliance highlighted the existing information gap around wheelchair services and made a call for comprehensive data to build an accurate picture about the overall costs of wheelchair services, waiting times, quality and service user experience.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “We seem to know how long everyone has to wait in A&E every week, yet there is not even a single national data collection on how many people need wheelchairs in this country, let alone how long they have to wait for one, or whether it is the right chair.

“On behalf of the Alliance, I am delighted to note that NHS England is helping to address this gap though the development of a data set. Whilst there are some excellent examples of best practice being employed within wheelchair services, there remains a vast need for improvement and the collection of a data set will be a positive step in bringing about change for the wheelchair users in England.”

Current statistics reveal that many wheelchair users face delays in getting their chair – 70% waiting more than three months, 30% facing a delay of more than six months with 15% waiting more than 12 months.

Up to half of all people who use a wheelchair will develop a pressure ulcer at some point during their life caused, in part, by ill-fitting or ill-equipped chairs. The cost of treating the worst cases of a pressure ulcer can be as much as 16 total hip replacements.

Public money is being wasted by supplying incorrect equipment or by delays in supplying the right equipment: for every 182 wheelchair users not able to work, the benefits bill can increase by up to £1m, whereas the positive economic contribution made when in work can be up to £4.7m.

The Alliance will seek to support the ongoing wheelchair services improvement work currently being undertaken by both NHS England and the six wheelchair services improvement workstreams that emerged following the first wheelchair summit on 25 February 2014. It will work in partnership with the dedicated professionals across all services that support wheelchair provision to collectively help reduce harm, waste and delays in wheelchair services.

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