Doctors are to press for improved access to wheelchairs in the NHS after reports of six-month delays and families forced to buy them through crowdfunding websites.
London foundation doctor 1 Hannah Barham-Brown told the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Bournemouth today that friends had raised money for her wheelchair after the NHS offered a ‘badly designed’ one, weighing 20kg.
‘I was very lucky that some very generous people funded it. Without them, I wouldn’t be here in front of you. I wouldn’t be a doctor,’ she told the conference ‘I wouldn’t have made it through.’
It took the NHS six months to even make its first offer of a wheelchair, she added.
‘At the age of 27, I finally accepted that my physical condition had got to the stage where I wasn’t coping with being a medical student,’ Dr Barham-Brown said.
‘My GP agreed I should get a wheelchair and this would help me. It should have been the hardest part,’ she added. ‘But actually it got worse.’
London-based anaesthetics associate specialist Amir Landeck said his experience of getting an NHS wheelchair for his three-year daughter had been ‘disgusting’ and ‘ridiculous’.
‘We were offered one which was so cumbersome it barely would move. [They] told us she was too well for a light one and that only very ill kids with degenerative diseases get a light one. [This] is not true either – which I found out later,’ Dr Landeck added.
‘If you don’t buy wheelchairs from companies that they have an arrangement with they won’t repair it either, he told the meeting.
‘So not only did we buy a lighter wheelchair out of our own pocket but had to pay for maintenance too. We got penalised for trying to get the most adequate and appropriate wheelchair for our daughter.’
Dr Barham-Brown told the conference that 15 per cent of wheelchair users wait more than a year to get one.
‘People are waiting. People are trapped in their homes. People are desperate to be able to exercise, socialise, and contribute to society.
‘If we give them the right chair at the right time we can protect their health for the future and allow them to be the people they really, really want them to be.’
Her call for the BMA to work with NHS England and other bodies to ensure patients had ‘timely access to chairs suitable for their individual conditions’ won unanimous support.
BMA council chair Mark Porter said it would give the BMA 'a welcome new area in which to pursue advocacy on behalf of our patients and indeed our members’.
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