Millions of injured and ill people could be “trapped in their homes” because they are unable to access a wheelchair, raising concerns of a postcode lottery of provision.
A study by the British Red Cross shows that an estimated 3.8 million people who would benefit from use of a wheelchair or mobility aid loan are not getting the help they need.
The charity warned that 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 due to a lack of mobility aid provision.
One woman who lived without a wheelchair for several years despite suffering from chronic pain and chronic fatigue told The Independent she was driven to such loneliness and isolation that she felt that she “didn’t want to live”.
The report also shows that out of 139 NHS wheelchair services surveyed by the charity, 82 per cent of them do not provide wheelchairs for short-term use.
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, the charity said.
Mike Adamson, British Red Cross chief executive, said it was “unacceptable” that people with injuries, social care needs or even those with terminal illnesses find themselves “scrabbling around to get something so basic”.
“Most people have no idea that this issue exists until they are in need of a wheelchair for themselves or a family member,” he said.
“Worryingly, our research shows that often people aren’t even offered the option of borrowing a wheelchair. Instead of being able to socialise, get to appointments or to work, people are ending up trapped in their homes, becoming isolated and delaying their recovery.
“Every day we see the huge impact something as simple as a wheelchair can make to someone suffering with a broken limb, recovering from surgery or even during end of life care – getting out to see family and friends and even attending a family wedding, activities that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”
Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP said the findings must serve as an “urgent wakeup call” to the government.
“Restricting access to wheelchairs or mobility aids has proven negative mental and physical impacts on patients’ health, wellbeing and sense of independence,” he said.
“The new health secretary should therefore make every effort to end this unacceptable postcode lottery in provision.”
Last year, the British Red Cross loaned 90,000 mobility aids including 60,000 wheelchairs. The service is coming under increasing pressure and has recently adapted to include some “pop-up” services running from supermarket car parks to reach more people, especially in areas where building rents are prohibitive.
The charity is calling for statutory provision of short-term wheelchair loans and better information for health workers and patients on the benefits of short-term wheelchair use.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.
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