The government has admitted there are “unacceptable” variations in the quality of wheelchair services across the country.
Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat care services minister, said many disabled people experienced a “poor” service, with long waiting-times and “far too much off-the-shelf or ‘like it or lump it’ provision”.
His comments came in a Commons debate on wheelchair services, secured by Labour MP David Anderson, who chairs the all party parliamentary group on muscular dystrophy.
It followed last week’s Commons launch of the Get Moving report by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, which called for improved wheelchair services.
The report includes a string of examples of disabled people who have had problems obtaining the right wheelchair.
Burstow, who attended the launch of the report, said he had been left “in no doubt that wheelchair services is an area that really does require improvement”, while there needed to be “real improvement in extending personalisation to wheelchair services”.
He said it was common for people to wait months for a wheelchair, and not uncommon for them to wait years for a powered wheelchair, with an “unacceptable” degree of regional variation in the standard of services.
Burstow added: “The majority of wheelchair services are provided by the National Health Service, and should be subject to consistent, national standards, applied by local commissioners to the needs of individual populations.”
And he said his jaw “nearly hit the floor” when he discovered that 57 per cent of wheelchair budgets were eaten up by administration costs.
He said that two pilot projects in the east and south-west of England – announced by the Labour government in March – would “sow the seeds for best practice to take root across the whole NHS”.
The pilots were the latest in a series of efforts by the Labour government to improve wheelchair services.
In 2002, it launched a “Wheelchair Services Collaborative”, a partnership between the Department of Health and the NHS Modernisation Agency that aimed to “support significant improvements in NHS wheelchair services”.
And in 2006, prime minister Tony Blair announced that a Transforming Community Equipment and Wheelchair Services programme would aim to find a new way of delivering equipment, with a bigger role for charities.