Bid to increase free wheelchair access launches

© Minerva Studio
Monday 23rd September 2019

A proposal to widen short-term access to wheelchairs has been lodged in the Scottish Parliament – the first step towards new legislation that would make greater access a legal requirement.

Currently, the NHS only provides hospital patients with a wheelchair if they are predicted to need one for six months or more.

Many who need a wheelchair for a shorter period of time have to pay for one themselves or rely on charities like the British Red Cross to lend them one.

This can leave elderly patients stuck in hospital for longer, according to Jackie Baillie, the Labour MSP behind the bill.

Welcoming the proposal, Geoff Cheshire, head of mobility aid operations for the British Red Cross, said:

“Across our services, we see every day the significant benefits that accessing a wheelchair can make.

“Not only can it help people improve mobility and maintain some sense of their life, but it can support them to get to work, reduce their dependency on family and friends, and sometimes improve their recovery time.

“Our Maintaining Mobility report published last year found that 65% of people with an unmet short-term mobility need experienced negative impact on their quality of life.

“Of those who were able to loan a wheelchair, 90% said it made it easier to carry out day to day activities, and nearly half said it sped up their recovery time.

“There are also benefits to the health and care system – service pressures can be reduced by timely discharge, avoiding home visits and reducing missed or late appointments.

“We welcome this bill as a valuable opportunity to improve mobility and independent living for people across Scotland.

“Our evidence also suggests that implementing this bill could have positive economic benefits with our analysis indicating potential savings ranging from £469 to £4,607, with an average saving of £1,676 for every person.”

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie said: “I am delighted to lodge my bill which, if enacted, will see the lives of thousands of Scots improved.

“It is totally unfair that currently in Scotland, if you are in need of a wheelchair on a short-term basis, it comes down to either your financial situation or the area in which you live to decide whether you can get one or not.

“My bill proposal has gained huge levels of support from a number of different stakeholders including large, nationwide third sector groups such as Marie Curie, to smaller community groups, health and social care partnerships and many individuals.

“I am confident that my colleagues from across the chamber will see the benefits to their constituents of having such a bill enacted and I look forward to working with them to ensure that everyone who is in need of a short term wheelchair has access to one.”

The proposal will need to gain 18 signatures from three different political parties before it can progress to the next stage. An initial 12-week consultation period found 86% support from 93 responders.

Karin Orman, assistant director in professional practice at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, said: 

“Providing a wheelchair to all those who need it will not only support people to improve their mobility, but will also be important in reducing social isolation.

“Occupational therapists understand the benefits of helping people achieve their maximum level of independence and hope this proposed bill will achieve this for patients across Scotland.”