• Between October and December, 21 per cent of children and 15 per cent of adults waited more than 19 weeks for wheelchairs to be delivered
  • Waiting times of nine weeks-plus for wheelchair prescription and then delivery
  • Longest waits for those with high or specialist needs for prescriptions and delivery of wheelchairs

One in five children and almost one in six adults are waiting more than four months for the wheelchair they need to be delivered.

The latest data from NHS England on CCG wheelchair provision shows that between October and December 2016, over 7,200 people had waited 19 weeks or more to receive this vital equipment. This is despite people having a right in the NHS constitution to receive a wheelchair within 18 weeks of referral.

As NHS England does not collect data beyond 19 weeks it is impossible to say how much longer than this people may have been forced to wait. However, the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK said it knows of young adults waiting over eight months last year. The charity is part of the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance, a campaign group that successfully lobbied NHS England to start collecting data on wheelchair provision.

Muscular Dystrophy UK campaigns director Nic Bungay said that while people waiting may have access to a wheelchair – such as one they have outgrown or a manual chair – waiting for equipment appropriate to their needs is preventing young people from “going out independently… and accessing university, work or friends”.

The data also suggests waiting times for people totally dependent on wheelchairs may be even worse.

Although NHS England does not specify the level of physical dependency of those waiting more than 19 weeks, it does when it breaks down clinical commissioning groups’ performance into two stages: the speed of making a prescription decision on most appropriate equipment; and the speed of delivering the equipment once prescribed. For each category, separate waiting times must be submited for people who have a low, medium, high or specialist needs.

Following a referral, almost two-fifths of adults that have high or specialist wheelchair needs are waiting more than nine weeks to have a decision made on what type of chair they need. Thirty-seven per cent are also waiting more than nine weeks to receive the prescribed equipment.

Similarly, 36 per cent of children with high or specialist needs are waiting more than nine weeks for a wheelchair prescription and 35 per cent wait more than nine weeks for delivery.

It is not possible from the data to determine whether the same people who are waiting the longest for a prescription are also waiting the longest to receive a wheelchair.

NHS England defines high and specialist needs as people who are “fully dependent on their wheelchair for all mobility needs” and with expectations that their illness may degenerate. People with specialist needs are also at high risk of secondary complications, with some also having an “inability to sit without support”.

Waiting times significantly increased between quarter one and quarter three of 2016-17. For adults with high or specialist needs, between March and December 2016 nine week-plus waits for prescription decisions and equipment delivery increased by 31 and 44 per cent respectively.

Although children have seen a smaller increase in delays, within the same period there was a 12 per cent rise in children with high or specialist needs waiting nine weeks or more for a decision on most appropriate equipment. There was a 22 per cent rise in the number of the children waiting for the equipment to be delivered.

An NHS England spokesman said: “While the majority of children and adults get their wheelchairs within a few weeks, there are parts of the country where local services are not sufficiently responsive and we fully agree that needs to change.”

He said new contracting conditions will require CCGs to halve the number of children waiting 18 weeks by quarter four of 2017-18, and eliminate 18 week waits for wheelchairs by the end of 2018-19.

NHS England started collecting wheelchair data in July 2015 after pressure from the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance to improve services. Before then there had been no central information on access to wheelchairs and expenditure of each CCG. The data cannot be fairly compared before quarter one of 2016-17 due to lower data submission rates previously.

CCG areas where the highest proportion adults are waiting more than 19 weeks for a wheelchair

CCGNumber of cases closed in Q3 2016-17Percentage of cases closed in Q3 2016-17 where equipment was delivered in 19 weeks+
South Tyneside 1 100%
Newcastle Gateshead 1 100%
Surrey Downs 11 82%
Slough 53 72%
Harrogate and Rural District 162 71%
Bracknell and Ascot 45 69%
North West Surrey 84 68%
Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead 54 65%
South Kent Coast 150 65%
Ashford 82 65%

CCG areas where the highest proportion children are waiting more than 19 weeks for a wheelchair

CCGNumber of cases closed in Q3Percentage of cases closed in Q3 where equipment was delivered in 19 weeks+
Swale 5 100%
North Kirklees 61 90%
Calderdale 86 84%
Greater Huddersfield 66 79%
South West Lincolnshire 17 76%
Tameside and Glossop 109 72%
Ealing 22 68%
Rotherham 65 68%
Surrey Heath 3 67%
Lincolnshire West 44 66%