A wheelchair is essential to allow someone to live independently and be able to go to work, meet friends or take their children to school. However, all too often, the wheelchairs given out by the NHS are too heavy to be used effectively, or simply not appropriate to meet the user’s needs. The result is that they actually prevent people from getting on with their lives.

Aspire Grants provides funds to help spinal cord injured people purchase essential equipment they need to live an independent life and we have found that around 70% of all applicants are looking to purchase a wheelchair.

One reason for this is that the NHS voucher scheme is not sufficient to cover the cost of an appropriate wheelchair and, in 2016-2017, the average shortfall between the voucher and the cost of the wheelchair for our applicants was just under £3,000.

Research shows that it ultimately costs the taxpayer more when people have an inadequate wheelchair because:

  • readmissions due to complications from ill-suited wheelchairs, including long-term shoulder damage from making do with a heavy wheelchair, are incredibly expensive.  
  • if someone is denied their independence by their wheelchair then they are unlikely to get back into an active role in society, increasing their dependence on care and benefits. 

Despite this, the focus when it comes to wheelchair provision is still generally geared towards the short term and on making immediate savings. A more common sense approach would benefit everyone.  

NHS England itself has found that  “For every 182 wheelchair users not able to work, the benefits bill can increase by up to £1m, whereas the positive economic contribution made when in work can be up to £4.7m.”

Alex Rankin, Aspire’s Director of Services, says, “It’s not ridiculous to think that people should be given wheelchairs that they can physically get into their cars, or go out and about in for a whole day without being left exhausted. NHS wheelchair provision is not fit for purpose, and poor quality provision is robbing wheelchair users of their independence. This is a national disgrace and it needs to be addressed nationally, not simply left to under-funded local wheelchair services to do the best that they can.”