BMA to press for better access to wheelchairs

Following reports of six-month delays for those who require wheelchairs from the NHS and families being forced to seek funds on crowdfunding websites, the British Medical Association (BMA) are to push for improvements to wheelchair access.

The issue was raised by Junior Doctor Hannah Barham-Brown at the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Bournemouth, who was personally affected by the service she received from the NHS.

Dr Barham-Brown told the association that after waiting for six-months for the NHS to offer her a wheelchair that was inadequate and weighed 20kg, she was forced to turn to a crowdfunding website to raise the funds privately.

Dr Barham-Brown commented: "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. My GP agreed I should get a wheelchair and this would help me. It should have been the hardest part, but actually, it got worse.”

She added: "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.”

This comes as the NHS sees increasing budgetary pressures which has led to a strain on the service, with Dr Barham-Brown stating that 15 percent of wheelchair users wait more than a year before being able to access a wheelchair.

Amir Landeck, an anaesthetics associate specialist, described his experience of getting an NHS wheelchair for his three-year daughter as ‘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,” explained Dr Landeck.

Dr Landeck also raised a concern regarding maintenance, with the NHS not maintaining and repairing wheelchairs bought from companies that are not in the scheme.

"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,” he added.

Dr Barham-Brown’s call for the association to work with NHS England and other bodies to ensure patients had ‘timely access to chairs suitable for their individual conditions’ won unanimous support, with BMA’s council chair Mark Porter saying it is a welcome new area for the BMA to advocate.

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