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.
I’m getting so many messages in response to today’s column. A little girl crying because she’s having to use an unsuitable wheelchair. In one of the richest nations on earth. FFS. https://t.co/71hr5pye0p
— Frances Ryan (@DrFrancesRyan) August 23, 2018
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.
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