Serious Inadequacies in Wheelchair Provision and Maintenance in Ireland – UL Study

Lack of Wheelchair provisions in Ireland says UL study.
Lack of Wheelchair provisions in Ireland says UL study.

A study on wheelchair provision, undertaken by the University of Limerick, has highlighted a worrying lack of any national policies or guidelines in support of the 40,000 people who use wheelchairs and seating assistive technology in Ireland.

This HRB-funded study in partnership with SeatTech, Enable Ireland as the host organisation and the University of Limerick, has worked with key stakeholders to identify system improvements and to develop a strategy for more efficient provision of wheelchair services.

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The research, led by UL’s Dr Rosie Gowran, involved qualitative interviews with key stakeholders including service users, service providers, healthcare professionals, clinical engineers, administrators, suppliers, manufacturers, regulators and policy makers. Participants engaged in a series of workshops, which identified major bottlenecks in unregulated wheelchair provision processes in Ireland and which ultimately led to a proposed strategy document for more sustainable wheelchair and seating provision and a model to review and develop policy relating to wheelchair and seating provision nationally.

Major issues included

The length of waiting times throughout the wheelchair provision process which has significant impact on growing children, and people with progressive conditions.

The funding for wheelchair provision is sanctioned by the Health Service Executive, depending on the part of country in which a person lives and how this is prioritised.

Follow up & management services to review changing needs are ad hoc

Breakdown / Repair and Emergency Services can be ad hoc and inadequate

Refurbishment, Reissue, Recycling Services are being developed, yet are not appropriately regulated

Common Language needs to be used to develop sufficient and efficient communication systems

Education and training for all citizens at a national and local level need to be developed, with particular those involved in healthcare services.

Research & development of service and technology advancement

Identifying who takes responsibility for Wheelchair Provision as this is currently unregulated.

Dr Gowran states: “The focus this research was wheelchair and seating provision in the Republic of Ireland, which has developed and grown rapidly over the past twenty years, seeing an increase in localised, more accessible specialist services and the availability of advanced technology. However, even with these positive developments, current wheelchair provision, as with many other countries, lacked uniformity and could not be regarded as sustainable. A wheelchair becomes a person’s legs, it becomes part of their skin, and it is a person’s freedom. A wheelchair, if you need one, is essential for survival and it should be seen as a priority.

As one participant said when the wheelchair breaks down it is like cutting their two legs off. The current system or lack thereof in Ireland needs to be addressed urgently by Government. Many, Irish children are currently sitting in wheelchairs that are too small for them, being squashed in a wheelchair could have major consequences on their development, not only impacting their limbs but also leaving them at risk of chest infections and pressures ulcers.”

“This research has highlighted that the importance of wheelchair provision is misunderstood and there are four key processes which need to be addressed nationally, these include access to services, assessment and delivery, tracking, tracing and taking care of equipment and education and research. I call on the Irish Government to bring these issues onto the programme for government and sanction a national review of wheelchair services as a matter public priority, equating the importance of appropriate and regulated provision to the prescription of pharmaceutical drugs. As one research participant told me, you wouldn’t let someone do heart surgery on you if they hadn’t been to college, why should I let someone fix my wheelchair if they don’t know what they are doing? While the impact of inadequate and unregulated infrastructure may not be immediately apparent, the side effects may have long-term and or lethal consequences. This is a human rights issue“, said Dr Gowran.