We often discuss the various factors to take into account when looking to purchase a wheelchair: unique adjustments, indoor vs. outdoor, lifestyle. However, what frequently underpins a lot of the decision-making process around buying an electric wheelchair is funding. These chairs are often life-changing but rarely cheap, preventing many people from getting the most suitable wheelchair for their needs.
Thankfully, there are other options available, including funding from the NHS, although the choices available can vary depending on age, model and other factors. This article will take you through the steps involved in securing a grant from the health service, and the relevant criteria you need to be aware of.
How to get an NHS wheelchair grant
When looking for NHS funding, the first thing to do is contact your local services, typically either the local NHS trust or social services. A relevant healthcare professional (GP, physio or paediatrician) may then refer you on to Wheelchair Services — across the UK it is this body that largely takes responsibility for issuing NHS chairs and children’s specialist buggies.
There is also the issue of the ‘postcode lottery’, which is used to describe how the criteria for getting an NHS-issued electric wheelchair changes between different areas. You may also have to be patient, for as with other current health services, appointment waiting times can range from two months to over a year.
Once you can be seen by a professional, they will then measure your legs and body, focusing on upper body strength and how easy it will be for you to transfer into the chair. That way they can ascertain the chair you are best suited to: manual or electric, solid or pneumatic tires, folding or fixed frame etc. This is worked out according to your Personal Wheelchair Budget (PWB).
Personal wheelchair budgets
Since December 2nd 2019, it has been a legal right that people who access wheelchair services, whose posture and mobility needs impact their wider health and social care needs are entitled to a personal wheelchair budget. The UK Government introduced this policy in order to remove restrictions on wheelchair users and provide greater choice in choosing either a manual or electric wheelchair. Beforehand, this was managed by a voucher scheme — today, all clients of that scheme have a right to be offered a PWB.
PWBs allow users to access NHS provision, purchase accessories or even choose a different wheelchair within the health service’s range, as well as receiving more funds from a third-party PWB to fund another wheelchair depending on need. For instance, the SANGO advanced electric wheelchair range is a popular choice for many, but the slimline or XXL models may be more suitable alternatives. There are therefore four options available to most wheelchair users:
Existing NHS provision (Notional PWB)
With a notional PWB, the person is assessed and prescribed a selection of wheelchair options best suited to their clinical needs. The wheelchair will also be maintained and repaired free of charge.
Notional Top-up PWB
If you have an existing notional PWB, you can also get a ‘top-up’ where you purchase any accessories you may need, and they are fitted to the NHS-issued wheelchair — however, they are not maintained by the health service. The NHS is not required to give back any accessories when the wheelchair is returned, usually because the user no longer requires them, or the wheelchair is damaged beyond repair.
Notional Alternative PWB
Another funding route along a similar path is a notional alternative PWB: these allow those with existing provisions, you can pay extra to obtain a different wheelchair. You must be assessed first, and then choose from a list of wheelchairs selected to meet your clinical needs. This wheelchair is still NHS property, and will be maintained and repaired for free, but you cannot keep it if it is beyond repair.
Third Party PWB Option
Another option is to obtain a budget from a non-NHS supplier. You will still need approval from Wheelchair Services so that the chair meets your mobility needs. Additionally, you will cover the cost of any difference between the base price and the cost of the chosen wheelchair. For maintenance and repair, a percentage of additional funding is added to the PWB. The timescale for this provision is either five years for adults, or two and a half for children.
PWB criteria vary depending on the chair. For instance, funding an electric wheelchair will be more expensive than a manual model. Powered chairs in turn differ between energy-efficient models and high-spec energy efficient. To get more granular detail on eligibility criteria, take a look at this example guidebook — bear in mind though that the criteria may change depending on the region. It’s important to find as much information on your local NHS trust’s rules to know if there are any restrictions to available funding.
The perks of PWBs
Aside from the obvious advantage of a cost-effective or even free provision of an electric wheelchair—especially for someone these personal budgets come with other benefits, including:
- Personalised assessments for health & wellbeing
- Care plans (which can be adapted to existing plans, such as an EHCP)
- Transparency of PWB balance
- Information on maintenance and repair for NHS electric wheelchairs.
We hope this has given you clarity on NHS funding and other routes available to you when securing financial support for electric wheelchairs. If you have any other questions, contact us today and one of our supply professionals will be happy to offer advice around NHS and other funding for purchasing the right chair to suit your needs.