Disabled Children ‘Short-Changed’

Disabled and terminally-ill children are going without vital equipment as the NHS and councils are not providing enough funding, research shows. BDF Newlife, formerly the Birth Defects Foundation, found the bodies spent just £60 a year per child – leaving 250,000 children waiting for equipment.

The charity said children under two need £7,000 of specialist equipment, including beds and wheelchairs.

NHS bosses said attempts were being made to improve the issue.

BDF Newlife asked all the primary care trusts and local authorities in England what they spent on funding specialist equipment for sick, disabled and terminally-ill children.

‘I battled for four years for a bed’

Equipment such as wheelchairs and specialist seats should be funded by NHS and local government agencies on a need basis.

But the charity found that little money was reaching families in reality and called for funding to be ring-fenced.

Some 223 PCTs responded – three quarters of the total – with four saying they spent nothing and 14 saying they spent under £5,000 a year.

Over 60 did not know what they spent, leaving an average of £41.94 for each sick child.

Some 104 local authorities responded – two thirds of the total responsible for funding – with one spending nothing and three providing less than £5,000 funding a year.

The average spend for each sick child was £18.84.

BDF Newlife chief executive Sheila Brown said: “There is a scandalously low level of commitment to our most vulnerable children which is inexcusable.

“These are truly appalling statistics – £60 would buy no more than a pair of trainers these days.”

And she added: “It’s no wonder that families are turning to local fundraising or getting into debt on credit cards – which they are still paying off when the child has grown out of the equipment.”

The findings come as the NHS is in the midst of financial difficulties. The NHS racked up a deficit of over £500m last year, prompting a wave of cuts.

Jo Webber, deputy policy director at the NHS Confederation, which represents health service managers, said: “We recognise that the provision of equipment, including wheelchairs, for disabled and sick children is currently a difficult and emotive area.

“It is particularly challenging as wheelchairs and other specialist equipment tend to be very expensive and children quickly outgrow them.

“This is one of many areas that primary care trusts and local authorities need to work closely together on. Partnership working is crucial.”