Clinically functional NHS equipment hasn’t particularly got a reputation for being lifestyle-friendly, writes Andrew Mickel. For young wheelchair-users wanting to get risers to allow them to sit at the same school tables as their friends, for example, doing so would normally involve a second round of assessments and fittings.
But a new pilot scheme in Tower Hamlets has been launched by the wheelchair charity Whizz-Kidz and the local primary care trust to improve the service this group of young people receive by bringing together the funding, paediatric expertise and facilities in a single place.
The pilot partnership, launched last April and set to run for the next three years, gives young disabled people greater and earlier access to wheelchairs and other mobility equipment not currently readily available on the NHS.
Whizz-Kidz chief executive Ruth Owen says that working together with the PCT saves time for everyone. “This is the first scheme of its kind in the country where a wheelchair service is working together with an organisation like ours. It’s very encouraging because, if you go in to partnership together, the child and the family get the right equipment,” she adds.
While the charity does try to work closely with the NHS wherever possible, the Tower Hamlets scheme is unique in the extent of its joint-working, from the user’s entry point onwards.
A joint referral system means the charity and PCT consider potential cases together before deciding at a weekly meeting who is most appropriate for support. A therapist from both services attends the meetings to work out who needs the services the most, and then each case is allocated to an individual worker.
“There’s one point of contact, which is ideal for the family,” explains Whizz-Kidz therapy services manager Judith Davis. “These children are seeing so many different consultants, and there are so many different appointments that they have to attend. If they can have a one-stop-shop for their mobility contact, it is ideal for them.”
Between April and December, the PCT and Whizz-Kidz spent ₤100,000 helping around 30 users. Owen says that, in the process, they have saved a further ₤30,000 between them that they would have spent on the same children had they still been working separately.
And, while the NHS and Whizz-Kidz save cash, the children seem happy with the faster service they receive. Tiffany, a nine-year-old wheelchair user from Bow, was given a power chair in October under the scheme. “I love my wheelchair,” she says. “It looks cool and is really easy for me to move around myself. I like being able to do stuff on my own without being pushed all the time, and I can be right in the middle of things now, not stuck on the outside!”
The scheme is backed by hedge fund Lydian Asset Management, which has supported the charity over the last 10 years. Owen says that without its support, the scheme would not be able to afford to reach into BME communities. The project currently funds both a Whizz-Kidz therapist, and a Bengali-speaking officer who can encourage people to apply to the scheme. The officer primarily helps others to fill in application forms, and also goes into schools, shopping areas and mosques.
Although it is the backing of Lydian that allows the scheme to work in Tower Hamlets, Davis is keen to advance closer working between the charity and the NHS elsewhere too.
“Maybe we can’t do it on the same scale,” she says. “But what I’m hoping to do is work with other individual PCTs to see how we can work with them more closely than we’re already doing.
“Ultimately it’s about getting the right piece of kit to the child at the right time.”
● Effective communication between partners at all levels is essential to keeping partnerships working.
For more information about the Whizz-Kids and Tower Hamlets partnership or call 020 7233 6600.