NHS vouchers to power wheelchair improvements

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The Independent Online

Powered wheelchairs are to become available on the NHS for the first time in a move that also introduces vouchers into another corner of health care for the first time.

In a pounds 50m programme stretching over four years, powered chairs will start to become available from 1 April. At present they have to be bought privately, at around pounds 2,500.

After secondary legislation, the NHS will also provide vouchers up to the value of both powered and ordinary NHS wheelchairs for individuals who want to chose a more expensive or sophisticated chair. More than 500,000 people use wheelchairs, with the scheme likely to provide around 3,000 powered chairs in its first year.

The move was warmly welcomed by disability groups, Fergus Logan, chief executive of the Muscular Dystrophy Group, saying it was "difficult to think of anything that could affect disabled people's lives more fundamentally than this".

At present, vouchers in health care are limited to spectacles for low income groups and cover the cost of cheap glasses.

For ordinary wheelchairs, the voucher will fully cover the cost, but will allow the purchase of more sophisticated chairs. But Mr Logan said his charity had been assured that if an individual needed - as opposed to merely wanted - a more sophisticated powered chair than the standard NHS models, then the voucher would cover the full cost of that. "We have been given that assurance," he said.