North Wales adult wheelchair users’ assessment delay

Adult wheelchair users in north Wales are still having to wait for up to a year for assessments, despite improvements in other areas.

The findings came to light after AMs investigated the situation for 70,000 users.

Improving services for adults should be a “key priority” for the year ahead, the cross-party group said.

The Welsh government said it would consider the report in detail and respond in due course.

During its study, the assembly’s health and social services committee found there had been improvements in the rest of Wales, especially in waiting times for children.

In February 2011 children in south Wales were waiting about 32 weeks for assessment, but it had dropped to six weeks by February this year.

There was an even bigger improvement in north Wales with waiting times for paediatric wheelchair assessment falling from 56 weeks to just four weeks.

The changes came after the Welsh government allocated £2.2m to target waiting times for children in February 2011.

AMs first investigated the provision of NHS wheelchairs two years ago.

Committee chair Mark Drakeford said: “A great amount of good work has been achieved since our predecessor committee reported two years ago.

“Unfortunately, this progress has not always been as clearly communicated to the outside world as it deserved, and improvements need to be made.”

The committee said improving services for adults should be a “key priority” for the year ahead.

Multiple Sclerosis Society Cymru said the committee had “shone a light” on the wheelchair service but a year-long wait in north Wales for a wheelchair was unacceptable.

Spokesman Joseph Carter said: “Prior to the inquiry there had been little communication with service users and the voluntary sector, so we would accept that this has improved.”

“However MS Society Cymru remains concerned that the length of waiting lists in north Wales and that additional funding is still needed to get these down.”

Keith Bowen from Contact a Family Wales, a charity to support families with disabled children, said the “considerable improvements to paediatric services” reflected “the positive impact of targeted funding and the hard work of professionals”.

He added: “For this momentum to be maintained, however, it will be essential that the committee’s recommendations on the need to improve strategic planning and communication are addressed at the earliest opportunity.”

The committee heard almost £300,000 would be needed to bring adult waiting times in south Wales in line with those of children, and up to to £1m would be required in north Wales.

AMs also recommended that “urgent progress” should be made on pilot projects with the British Red Cross providing wheelchairs on short-term loans.

The Red Cross told the committee it was facing an “unsustainable” £200,000 a year shortfall on the scheme.

The committee also called on the NHS to provide wheelchairs that that reflected users’ lifestyles, particularly children.

AMs heard that parents were often frustrated by the lack of choice and the types of wheelchairs available on the NHS.

A Welsh government spokesperson said a considerable amount of work had been done since the initial review of wheelchair provision in 2008.

An all-Wales “programme of action” had been established and an extra £2.2m per year allocated to “increase capacity and to specifically target wheelchair services for children as a priority”.

Diane Salisbury – wheelchair user

“I’m 52 and I have spina bifida. I cannot walk and have no feeling from the waist down so consequently I use a wheelchair. First of all the occupational health refers you for a wheelchair. Then you have to go over to Wrexham to be assessed… the waiting time is two years because there’s a shortage of occupational therapists and also a waiting list for chairs as well. If you have a wheelchair which is falling apart you lose your confidence to go out and you lose your independence. Without a chair you’re housebound. I couldn’t go to work… I thought, ‘We’re in the 21st century not the 1900s’.”