No wheelchair for you!

My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken powerchair

I wrote back in March about the death of the power wheelchair that I had been given and my quest to obtain a new one.  It was old but it served its purpose in letting me go further from home and use public transport without requiring another person to push my wheelchair. Since my ability to walk is fairly limited I do need a wheelchair when I am out of the house. There are four ways that I know of to obtain a manual or powered wheelchair.

  1. The NHS
  2. Lease one from Motability using the mobility component of DLA
  3. Buy one
  4. Get a charity to buy one

It should be obvious that buying one is not really an option for most people living on sickness and disability benefits. Many people who need a high end power wheelchair do lease one from the Motability scheme however that option is not available to those who already use their DLA to lease a car through the scheme, or who do not receive DLA at all. In some circumstances a charity might be willing to foot some or all of the bill for a power wheelchair. Specialist charities for certain diseases or impairments might do this although in practice most do not have this option either. In my case there is a charity that helps people in the area that I live in who might be able to pay for part of the cost of a power wheelchair for me but since charity funds must be carefully looked after they require me to need a wheelchair but be unable to get one from the NHS before they will help. That leads me to the main option, to ask for a wheelchair from the NHS.

Soon after my power wheelchair broke an occupational therapist referred me to Worcestershire Wheelchair Services and I was told that I would get an assessment but that I would have to wait a long time. In the meantime I bought a manual wheelchair using my credit card. I have a bankruptcy in my past because of my illness so that credit is at an interest rate of 34% APR.

I knew when I was referred for a wheelchair assessment that I would not qualify for a power wheelchair because I only need a wheelchair when out of the house but that was OK because once I had an assessment I could turn to my local charity. As I understood then from other doctors and therapists I should qualify for a manual wheelchair, although probably one with small wheels that required an attendant to push it because self-propelling a wheelchair soon hurts my arms as much as walking hurts my legs. (This is why I purchased a self-propel chair, since I would like to be able to turn myself around even if I mostly have someone pushing.)

Then, today, I received this letter from Wheelchair Services. (Click to enlarge.)

Letter from wheelchair services

The letter informed me that I would not receive any wheelchair from the NHS because in Worcestershire they are

“Currently only able to supply wheelchairs to people who meet higher level needs i.e. to those clients who have a permanent mobility problem, who are unable to walk and who require a wheelchair within their own home.”

So, because I can walk or stagger around at home, I will not receive any kind of wheelchair to help outside where I cannot walk more than a few metres or stand up for more than a few seconds – not even a manual wheelchair. They won’t even visit to assess me. There are also many people who need a power wheelchair but are unable to get one from the NHS because they, like me can walk to some extent around their own home. In a lot of these cases they would use a wheelchair inside if only they could fit one in their home, but because they cannot they too are denied any help from wheelchair services. I know of several people who are currently trying to raise funds through donations to purchase their own power wheelchair because of this.

I’m not too worried about this in my own case because I have the manual wheelchair that I bought, and I have my wife to push it much of the time, and I still hope to get help from a local charity. I am far more worried about all the other people who haven’t been so fortunate and have no chance to buy a wheelchair, no charity help, no car and no one to offer lifts. I struggle to understand the justification for the NHS in Worcestershire not giving a wheelchair to people who need one but only when outside. If applied nationally, this policy would trap tens or hundreds of thousands of people in their own homes, unable to go out to medical appointments, to buy food or to visit family and friends. I don’t know how long this policy has been in place in Worcestershire but I hope that it is the only area doing this.

Worcestershire Wheelchair Service informed me that their qualifying criteria have been this way for a number of years due to low funding. Worcestershire is not looking like a good place for a chronically sick or disabled person to live right now; Worcestershire council are planning to remove funding for care at home for a large number of people and send them to live in care homes instead. This is a huge backwards step, a removal of freedom for a lot of people and reverts to the old method of locking those with disabilities away from society. This policy on wheelchairs will ensure that more people are trapped at home and so require care from the local authority, which in turn may put them into a care home.

Are we as a country really so short of money that this is the route we want to take?

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

9 thoughts on “No wheelchair for you!”

  1. For weird wheelchair criteria I bet my service wins: If you can demonstrate competence in wheelchair usage they’ll consider you for a more expensive chair. So it’s well worth casually balancing on your back wheels whilst chatting during the assessment if you don’t want a super cheap, basic model.

  2. How does this affect people taking their Atos test in Worcs? In the test, thanks to Mrs Ed Balls, if you can wheel yourself around in your chair you’re regarded as perfectly mobile and it’s off to the job centre with you. This criteria clearly won’t be relevant in Worcs where you won’t be given a chair no matter how theoretically mobile having one might make you. So will the Atos test be amended to reflect this? Have you approached your MP or Grayling or IDS about this? 

  3. I actually was urged to get an assessment two years ago for similar reasons, only to be disqualified immediately because I was able to stand up and open the door.  What really boggles me is the system requires you to have needed a wheelchair for six months before you get one – so for six months, being bed-bound and unable to get about at all (and not die in that time) is the only way to qualify. 

    Scooters are more expensive than cars in this country, our tech for wheelchairs is incredibly behind the times (what good is a manual wheelchair for me when there’s extensive arthritis in my elbows and wrists?) and yet other countries seem to be able to fund wheelchairs at half the price as the UK.  Go figure.

  4. And people wonder why disabled people aren’t going back to work.
    In my own case the above criteria only apply to electric wheelchairs and I did get a manual one.
    However as my disability worsened, I couldn’t self propel and became totally unable to leave the house. I was only able to continue on my funded PhD course (rather than end up on benefits) thanks to my university who stepped in and paid half the cost of my electric wheelchair.
    Upon completion of my PhD I became a researcher and had a job for over 5 years.
    NONE of this would have been possible without my electric wheelchair.
    For the sake of a few thousand pounds I would have spent an extra 8 years on incapacity benefit, totally housebound, and would never have worked in my life.
    Oh, and I would have been called a lazy scrounger to boot.

    Can we please get our priorities right? Getting the right equipment allows disabled people the freedom and ability to do the things we need to. 
    For those of us who are well enough to work it is also essential to have that support if we are to continue (or start) to do so.
    It is even more vital if we are now going to be punished by a brutal new system for not being employed. But how can we be when vital equipment and services are being witheld?

  5. As far as I know this is pretty standard. If you don’t “need” a wheelchair to get around indoors (no matter how impractical it would be to use) then your local PCT will not supply you with a wheelchair.
    I agree, it seems riduclous. I can walk indoors, because I have wals & furniture to support me & I can safely sit down as often as, and for as long as, I need to. The same can’t be said for outside, so it’s ridiculous that the same criteria is applied.

    1. When I looked a couple of months ago I found the policies from several NHS areas and all of them would give a manual chair in this situation. There must be areas apart from Worcestershire that would not, but I don’t know how many.

    2. I have lived in 2 NHS areas. Both of them supply manual wheelchairs if you require them “regularly” outdoors. I have checked and it is still the case today.
      It is only electric wheelchairs which are required to be used BOTH indoors and out.

      And I used to think that was bad…

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