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Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what action he is taking to improve the wheelchair service, in particular the speed of repairs, in the light of the survey of users of electrically-powered wheelchairs undertaken by Mary Marlborough Lodge Disabled Living Research Unit.

Action to improve the wheelchair service is continuous, and consists more of relatively small changes and constant pressure to increase efficiency than of dramatic new initiatives. A few recent changes include a wider availability of models, particularly of powered chairs; speedier provision through wider stock holdings; better information to the people responsible for selection; and improvements in the handbook for users.The indications are that the longest repair delays discovered by the survey were experienced with Everest and Jennings chairs. The suppliers have long been pressed to produce replacements more quickly and there are now signs of some improvement. This is not, however, the complete answer. The repair of powered chairs has always been and remains a source of concern. The difficulty is that so many of the users have such complicated needs that the only certain way of ensuring constant availability of a suitable chair would be to make duplicate provision. Even if present cost and manpower constraints did not preclude this absolutely, it is doubtful whether such provision could be justified.If a wheelchair, whether powered or non-powered, cannot be repaired quickly, every effort is made to provide, as a temporary substitute, a chair which will be of some help even if it falls short of the ideal. We are currently considering a permanent exchange system in cases where repairs are expected to take a long time.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied that the electrically-powered wheelchairs prescribed by the NHS are meeting the needs of the patients; and if he will make a statement.

Electrically powered wheelchairs for indoor use and occupant control are supplied to people who are unable to walk and unable to propel an ordinary wheelchair where this will confer a measure of independence in the home. An electrically assisted pushchair is provided if the person normally pushing a patient cannot do so for reasons of frailty or difficult terrain. While improvements in the service are an ongoing process, there are many indications that the wheelchairs provided are a significant help to the recipients. Every effort is made to ensure that an issued chair meets the needs of an individual to the fullest possible extent. If my hon. Friend wishes me to look into any particular case of difficulty I shall be happy to do so.