After reading a post in a lovely group I’m in about a woman coming out of hospital recovering from a stroke and needing a wheelchair, it got me thinking about people’s perception of being a wheelchair user reliant on the NHS.
Many people have wondered over the past year why I needed to buy a wheelchair if I qualify for one on the NHS. I don’t blame them for asking the question. I thought the same 6 years ago!
My NHS wheelchair was a life changer (and still is). I am forever grateful for the chance to go through assessment, award and receipt of an electric wheelchair funded by the NHS but the reality is the service is severely underfunded, outdated and unfair. Did you know even if you medically need a wheelchair but it won’t function perfectly in your house (perhaps the turns are particularly tight, a doorframe is too narrow or there is a step somewhere) then you will not be allowed to have that wheelchair. Did you know if you only need a wheelchair for going outside or on longer walking journeys etc that you won’t get one at all. It’s only if you need the ‘chair both inside and out.
I know of so many people struggling day to day with pain and disability who don’t qualify for help from their local wheelchair services because of minor issues. The second reality is that unless you have a spare few thousand pounds knocking around, you won’t be able to buy one privately either.
So what do people who don’t fit the tight and specific NHS criteria but can’t afford to buy privately do? Like the woman I mentioned in the beginning, they have no other options. They have to rely on family and friends to help them out, they have to fundraise, they often end up immobile, locked inside a house which once felt like a home, rather than a prison.
The second thing I never understood about NHS wheelchair use before I became a wheelchair user is that the maintenance is outsourced to private companies borough to borough. Through personal experience I can sadly state that many of these people are not trained in customer service or in the safe servicing of wheelchairs. If your ‘chair breaks down, there are no hire ‘chairs to tide you over. There are no emergency services or quick fixes. Often the wheelchair can be left days before pick-up and if you’re unlucky like me, they bring it back still broken and unsafe too. What do they advise while you wait? Bed rest. I’d love to say this was a one off experience in my 5 years but sadly it wasn’t. I’ve spoken with enough people to know it’s a widespread issue and one that you simply can’t imagine could happen when someone’s mobility and lifeline depend on that wheelchair.
I recommended Lith-Tech to the family of the lady above. Yes, buying privately is an expensive and daunting purchase but having the comfort of a modern, reliable mobility aid with great customer support behind the purchase is worth it’s weight in gold. I didn’t have the money to purchase my wheelchair myself but I was generously helped by many family, friends and strangers to fundraise the amount I needed. I suggested they tried similar because the third reality in this post today is that the system isn’t going to change any time soon. With Covid-19 restrictions, tightening within the NHS services and a continued lack of funding, more and more people in need will be without the mobility support they deserve from our worn down NHS. Finding out who to trust within the private mobility industry is key during these hard times and I will shout from the rooftops about Lith-Tech and their genuine care for their customers, alongside their awesome wheelchairs which are at the top of the list for ground breaking technology, lightweight, foldable and completely capable in most terrains/weather.
I hope that most of my readers never have to worry about these things but if wheelchair disability comes in to your life or on to your radar somehow, try to remember this post. I am always available via my email contact form to offer advice regarding NHS wheelchair services and private, reputable mobility companies.