Conservative party conference: NHS ‘resisting modernisation’ of wheelchair services


newslatestA disabled charity boss has described the “uphill battle” she has faced in trying to persuade the NHS to improve its wheelchair services for disabled children.

Ruth Owen, chief executive of Whizz-Kidz, told her charity’s fringe meeting at this week’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham that the NHS “does not procure in an effective and efficient way”.

And she spoke of her own struggle to obtain a wheelchair through the NHS, a process she described as “tortuous”.

She has now tried twice, but on both occasions ended up conceding defeat and buying a lightweight manual wheelchair herself.

She told Disability News Service after the meeting: “If I can’t get it, and I am doing the job I am doing, what chance do the children in this country have? And they say they have a good service. It’s crap!”

Whizz-Kidz now has partnerships with 12 NHS trusts, which aim to improve local wheelchair services, and this work was praised by health secretary Jeremy Hunt in his keynote speech to the conference.

But there is still a waiting-list of 70,000 children who do not have the appropriate mobility equipment.

Owen said there was “a culture in the NHS that doesn’t want change”, with “some strong lobby groups that are not there for the customer”.

She said: “There needs to be more choice because this area of the NHS do not want choice, change or to listen to the customer. They don’t want to believe there is a problem, and there is a problem.”

Whizz-Kidz is also backing a new “rate and review” service for wheelchair-users, which allows them to rate their wheelchair service, reviewing the service they received, waiting times, and the quality of equipment.

Owen praised the support given to Whizz-Kidz by prime minister David Cameron.

But she said: “I want choice, a little bit of competition in the NHS. I want children and young people… to have the freedom and independence that I have.”

Whizz-Kidz has now secured the support of Tesco to help drive down the price it pays for wheelchairs, which it says is “taking significant cost out of the system”.

And she suggested that the charity would soon be announcing a major development that would help “many more thousands of children”.

She added: “Nothing makes me more excited in life than seeing a young person getting their first wheelchair. That independence that you can’t put a price on.”

Danny Miller, who received a powered wheelchair from Whizz-Kidz in 2008, described how this had helped him attend university, while cutting NHS costs by becoming the first young person with his impairment not to need a spinal rod operation.

One of the manual wheelchairs he had previously received from the NHS had not been suitable because it was too heavy to self-propel.

He said: “By providing me with the wrong wheelchair, it took away my independence. To me, having the right wheelchair means independence.

“If you provide the right wheelchair, young disabled people cannot only participate in society but contribute and add to it.”

1 October 2014