As a Red Cross report says millions in rest of UK are going without wheelchairs, one Limavady mother has told of how the charity’s equipment helped to get her young son back to school.
A British Red Cross study estimates 4.3 million adults in the UK (8%) may have needed or benefited from the short-term use of a wheelchair or mobility aid, however only 1% of people in the UK received a short-term wheelchair loan.
Reasons for this gap in care are varied, ranging from lack of information about services, stigma around wheelchair use, and the ‘postcode lottery’ for those trying to get a short-term wheelchair or mobility aid.
Glynis Nutt from Limavady was devastated when her five year old son, Harry, broke his leg while playing on a bouncy castle.
Little Harry had to wear a full leg plaster cast and had very little mobility.
The local A&E department referred Glynis to the Red Cross. She said: “The Red Cross couldn’t do enough to find us a suitable child’s wheelchair and because of it, Harry was out and about a couple of days after his accident and was able to go back to school.
“We got invaluable support from the Red Cross in our hour of need.”
The Red Cross report also found that people who may have benefited from a short-term wheelchair loan – including people diagnosed with a terminal illness, recovering from surgery or an injury such as a broken leg – are at risk of isolation or ending up trapped in their homes.
Out of 139 NHS wheelchair services surveyed by the charity, 114 cannot provide wheelchairs for short-term use.
Short-term wheelchairs enable people to leave hospital sooner and recover more quickly at home, preventing falls and re-admittance to hospital.
In Northern Ireland all five Health & Social Care Trusts provide the Red Cross with some funding to provide short-term wheelchair loans.
NHS wheelchair providers in Northern Ireland generally do not offer short-term provision.
The charity’s Maintaining Mobility report, undertaken by Kantar Public, shows people dealing with a range of mobility issues struggle to get the help they need.
From the 4,000 people surveyed across the UK, 8.1% had medical or social care needs that could have been helped by borrowing a wheelchair or mobility aid for a short period. However just 1.1% received the help they needed.
Geoff Cheshire, Head of Operations for the Red Cross Mobility Aids Service said; “While Northern Ireland has been very fortunate in terms of the support provided by all five Health and Social Care Trusts to the Red Cross wheelchair loan service, there remains no statutory duty to provide patients with short-term mobility aids and so provision can be inconsistent.
“We also believe that there is significant unmet need.”