Delays and high costs faced by wheelchair users

Spinal injury charity Back Up has today published a new report detailing how people choose, use and fund a wheelchair – and it’s shown than a quality wheelchair can cost as much as as second-hand car.

Research carried out by Back Up found that 48% of people only got a wheelchair they were happy with after one year, and 7% of people have never been happy with their chair. Typically, a wheelchair user’s first wheelchair comes courtesy of the NHS – they’ll either offer a chair, or budget to go towards a chair of the person’s choosing. There are a vast number of factors to be considered before getting the right wheelchair, including weight, comfort, size and adjustability, with the final decision being based on assessment of clinical need.

Interestingly,a YouGov poll of the general public commissioned by Back Up found that 60% of the adult population believe that people who need a wheelchair should only have to wait up to one month, while a quarter believe they should get a chair that meets their needs right away.

Beth Scrimshaw, head of Back Up’s services, says: “We believe it is vital that people with a spinal cord injury have access to a suitable wheelchair when they’re discharged. With the right wheelchair, people can build on the skills they have learnt, increase their confidence and independence, and lead active and full lives. With an unsuitable wheelchair, isolation and depression is common, potentially leading to ill health.  This just isn’t acceptable.

Because of the waiting times involved in getting a suitable chair through the NHS, many people choose to buy a wheelchair with their own funds. The charity’s research found that 39% of people had paid for a wheelchair themselves, some with a mixture of funding streams, while 37% chose the free NHS option.

Many respondents to Back Up’s survey said that they believe that disability equipment is, generally, overpriced. More and more people are turning to charity grants and crowdfunding to secure the funds to make up the shortfall. Aspire, another spinal injury charity, provide grants for a range of disability equipment – last year, 70% of all grants they issued were for wheelchairs or mobility equipment. For those who had an NHS wheelchair voucher and applied for a grant, the average difference between the voucher and the wheelchair needed was close to £3,000.

The YouGov survey found that 36% of the public say that they think that a wheelchair for a person with a spinal cord injury costs less than £1,000. But Back Up found that 50% of the wheelchair-using respondents’ wheelchairs costs between £1,000 and £4,000.

‘‘We know that specialist therapists and those working in wheelchair services work hard to support people to get the equipment they need in a timely fashion, but many are hampered by inconsistent standards and processes, by the different and conflicting assessment criteria, and by limited funding,” adds Beth. “Collectively, more needs to be done to address these issues. We also have to consider the hugely inflated price of wheelchairs. People told us that a good quality chair was a similar price to a second-hand car, or a luxury holiday – but a wheelchair is not a luxury item.”

Find out more about Back Up’s work at

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