Leading NHS Wheelchair Provider Urged to Improve Amid Lengthy Delays

Leading NHS Wheelchair Provider Urged to Improve Amid Lengthy Delays

The NHS’s primary wheelchair provider, AJM Healthcare, has been instructed by the health service ombudsman to urgently enhance its complaints system. This directive comes in light of growing concerns that disabled individuals are waiting up to two years to receive wheelchairs.

A Rise in Complaints

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) issued a rare public notice to AJM Healthcare following a surge in complaints from wheelchair users. Most grievances involved delays in receiving new wheelchairs or necessary parts, with waiting periods ranging from one month to two years.

Cause of Delays

AJM Healthcare, which prides itself on being the leading NHS wheelchair service provider in the UK, has not clarified the causes behind these delays. Experts have suggested that inadequate government funding may be a significant factor affecting the service.

Wheelchair Assessment Process

The process for obtaining a wheelchair begins with a referral from a GP for an assessment conducted by private companies like AJM Healthcare. Depending on the complexity of the patient’s condition, the assessment is carried out by an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, or a rehabilitation engineer. Only those who meet specific criteria are prescribed a wheelchair.

Role of the PHSO

The PHSO steps in when complaints remain unresolved by the NHS or its private care providers. In a letter obtained by The Guardian, the PHSO highlighted that many complaints could not be investigated because patients hadn’t been able to complete AJM Healthcare’s complaints procedure.

“All service providers must listen to complaints. This is especially crucial for you, given that your equipment is vital for those with a disability,” the letter emphasised.

A Surge in Complaints

Since 2018, the ombudsman has received 67 complaints about AJM Healthcare, with over half (38) submitted in 2023 and an additional 12 this year. Complaints primarily focused on delays in receiving wheelchairs and parts and poor communication, including a failure to respond to complaints.

Recommendations for Improvement

The ombudsman expressed concern over the nature and volume of complaints, particularly the significant increase in 2023. AJM Healthcare has been given 28 days to outline how it plans to address these issues.

AJM Healthcare’s Response

Despite the criticism, AJM Healthcare referenced NHS data indicating that its referral to completion time for wheelchairs within 18 weeks exceeds the national average by over 7.9%. However, data from across England reveals that one in five children and a slightly smaller proportion of adults waited more than 18 weeks for wheelchairs or modifications between January and March 2024. These delays are attributed to both private and NHS providers commissioned locally.

Due to systemic issues, many disabled people resort to crowdfunding for charities to obtain necessary wheelchairs, while others remain housebound or face deteriorating health.

Funding and Oversight Issues

Nick Goldup from The Wheelchair Alliance pointed out the insufficient government funding and lack of central oversight for wheelchair services. He criticised the commissioning bodies for not understanding the required funding levels due to a lack of demand data. He highlighted that the government allocates approximately £196 per person annually, which is insufficient, considering that wheelchairs can cost from £1,000 to over £15,000 for complex power chairs.

In England, individuals are entitled to a wheelchair through the NHS if they meet local criteria. However, some integrated care boards (ICBs) are rationing wheelchair provisions due to decades of underinvestment, offering only basic models rather than those meeting specific needs. ICBs can provide a personal wheelchair budget, requiring individuals to cover any additional costs.

Government and NHS Statements

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care affirmed, “It’s absolutely right that wheelchair users get the equipment and services they need, which is why NHS England is taking steps to reduce delays, supported by a record £164.9bn annual funding for the NHS.”

An NHS spokesperson added, “Integrated Care Boards are responsible for providing wheelchair services to patients locally, but the NHS also provides personal wheelchair budgets to give patients more choice and control over a wheelchair that meets their individual needs.”

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles

Wheelchair users may also find a shortage of wheelchair accessible vehicles. More remote places which have less population compared to large cities may not have as many (or none at all) places to rent or obtain a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV).

Specialist Vehicle Rental (head office in Birmingham) offers delivery of such vehicles all across the mainland UK. We have a fleet of over 350 vehicles and a fantastic choice of adaptations too. 

If you’re looking for a quote, simply drop us an email or phone call:

EMAIL: bookings@specialistvehiclerental.co.uk

TEL: 01922 624 967

TEL: 0845 293 2799

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Welcome to our first ever blog ! Here at Specialist Vehicle Rental, we are striving to ease the process of learning about wheelchair accessible vehicles. 

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