UK’s National Health Service Is Keeping 5,000 Children With Disabilities Waiting To Get Wheelchairs

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter
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The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is facing backlash for a wheelchair shortage that is affecting thousands of children with disabilities as well as others with limited mobility.

About one in five U.K. children with disabilities — a total of more than 5,100 children — who were referred for wheelchairs did not receive their wheelchairs within the standard 18 weeks from referral date, reported The Guardian.

NHS is the world’s largest single-payer health care system. It has been criticized for how it distributes wheelchairs since at least 2017, when it was accused of a so-called “postcode lottery” in which individuals’ abilities to get wheelchairs from the health care system varied wildly depending on where they lived.

“Wheelchair delays have a devastating impact on a child’s life, anything from preventing rehabilitation to inhibiting their ability to make friends, or even go to school,” wrote Frances Ryan, a columnist for The Guardian who uses a wheelchair, in her column Thursday.

Ryan also called attention to a 2018 study by the Red Cross that claims that up to 4 million Britons a year do not have access to wheelchairs for short-term injuries like broken bones.

The Red Cross study drew attention to ways in which the wheelchair shortage has national effects. Not being given a wheelchair can mean that patients spend “more time occupying hospital beds because they are unable to leave,” according to the study. Having an ill-fitting wheelchair or no wheelchair at all can also re-injure a patient, reported the BBC(RELATED: Doctors Call Out NYU Med School’s Free Tuition Announcement As Ignoring Real Needs)

Adults with disabilities are also facing difficulties in obtaining wheelchairs. Andrew Walsh, a 51-year-old diabetic double-amputee from Scotland, had to privately raise funds for an electric wheelchair after the NHS said he “did not meet the nationally agreed eligibility criteria for a powered wheelchair,” reported Express in early August. Walsh also underwent a kidney transplant this summer.

Electric wheelchairs can cost the equivalent of several thousand dollars in the U.K.

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

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