• 334 patients waited more than a year for wheelchairs
  • ”Inherited” waiting list part of problem
  • Plan to tackle backlog without disrupting new patients

Commissioners in Kent and Medway are having to put extra money into a wheelchair contract after more than 330 people were left waiting more than a year.

It is the second time in three months the county’s clinical commissioning groups have had to find additional funding for a service where patient demand turned out to be significantly different from that envisaged in the original contract.

Millbrook Healthcare took on the £6.2m a year wheelchair contract, covering eight CCG areas, in April last year.

An audit showed that when Millbrook took over the contract there were 1,046 adult referrals and 210 child referrals outstanding. But by the end of March 2018 the waiting list – which includes patients waiting for assessment as well as those waiting for equipment – had swollen to 1,971 adults and 443 children. More than half had been waiting more than 18 weeks but 272 adults and 62 children were also on the earlier waiting list and had therefore waited more than a year.

The audit showed the type of equipment needed was different from originally envisaged with more patients needing powered and specialist wheelchairs. Around 24,000 people use the service, for those who need a wheelchair for six months or more, at any one time.

A new funding agreement with Millbrook is expected by the end of the month, with priority being given to those who have waited longest and the backlog tackled separately from the “business as usual” referrals. Patients will also be monitored to check they don’t suffer any harm; in a paper for the Kent County Council health overview and scrutiny committee, the CCGs say no harm has been found but the waits were having a “significant impact” on their daily lives and independence.

In a joint statement, lead commissioner Thanet CCG and Millbrook said: “Both the CCGs and Millbrook Healthcare are taking this situation very seriously and we apologise for the time it has taken to get to this point however, it has been necessary given the issues presented.

“The additional funding will be linked to a plan with clear timelines for issuing equipment and repairs for those patients who have been waiting for 18 weeks or more, with those who have been waiting for longer than a year being prioritised. Once the plan has been agreed, we will be contacting these patients. “

In April, HSJ reported the contract for patient transport services in Kent and Medway, operated by G4S, had its value increased after there were more ambulance journeys than reflected in the original contract.