My Lords, in the time I have today, I am going to concentrate on a very specific area, that of wheelchair services. I declare an interest as chair of the National Wheelchair Leadership Alliance, which was set up after NHS England supported two national summits, and a huge weight of academic evidence and case studies offered a compelling case of why action was needed. A 10-point charter was developed which received significant support from the public, Members of both Houses, CCGs, the industry, wheelchair services, and charities, to name a few.
It is simply not understood how important the right chair is. In our campaign, I sat in a wheelbarrow. I am not proposing this as a cheap solution to wheelchair services, but in a few minutes it became very painful and it provided a shocking image. We chose a wheelbarrow, because it may have a seat, wheels and handles, but it does not give independence. That is what the wrong chair means.
During this work, we have seen some dreadful cases, including long waiting times and people dying before they received their equipment. No one is trying to do a bad job—quite the contrary—but it is a Cinderella service and a complete postcode lottery. A cushion can cost £250, while a pressure ulcer from the wrong cushion can cost £100,000 to fix.
The mandate consultation came at a perfect time, and I am delighted that we merited mention in the response. I understand that the mandate is a strategic document and is not meant to be prescriptive, but the response dismisses a focus on individual services. This contradicts the Government’s aim for integrated healthcare, because wheelchair services may be a single service, but the outcomes have an impact on every government department. Because of having the wrong chair or not having a chair, children are missing school and people are missing work; it is costing the NHS significant amounts of money through injury and harm. If disabled people cannot get to work, how can Her Majesty’s Government hope to halve the employment gap for disabled people? One person told me that through access to work she would have five-sevenths of her specialised chair funded, but she had to leave it at work at the weekends because it was not for personal use. That is totally ludicrous—how could she get to work in the first place?
I know we have limited time, but I have a few questions for the Minister. Will he elaborate on whether further work has been done on the cost-benefit of providing the right wheelchair? Will he provide an update on the work of NHS England’s data dive and tariff, which is very welcome and crucial to moving this debate forward? Will he confirm that the number of responses to the mandate consultation in this area was among the highest received? Why have the wider benefits of providing the right wheelchair not been taken into consideration? I am not asking for more money; I am just asking for a genuinely integrated approach. Finally, as we are limited for time, can I meet the Minister as this has been a problem for 30 years and affects millions of people?