Inquiry Shone a Light on but More Improvements Wheelchair Service Needed to Cut Wait; Last Week the National Assembly for Wales Published a Report Following a One Day Inquiry into Wheelchair Services. Here, Joseph Carter from the MS Society Cymru Discusses the Implications of the Findings and Outlines What Needs to Be Done Next

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THE publishing of a report into wheelchair waiting times last week by the Assembly's Health and Social Care Committee marks the end in the latest chapter of the ongoing saga that is the wheelchair service in Wales.

The report accepted that a lot of progress had been done but highlighted concerns about inadequate communication with service users and the large difference in waiting lists between North and South Wales.

This is the second time an Assembly committee has looked at the issue of wheelchairs in two years, whilst the Welsh Government has been reviewing the service since 2008. With this inquiry now complete the key question is will anything change? We welcome the short inquiry into wheelchair waiting lists in Wales and think that the investigations undertaken by the Health and Social Care Committee have shone a light on to the wheelchair service and led to improvements.

At present all the indications are that things have started to improve due to initiating of the inquiry. The wheelchair service has started to be more open about its work and in the last three months there have been open days across Wales where service user groups have been invited to meet with therapists and engineers to talk about the service.

Wheelchair waiting times for children have come down remarkably in the last year, from 32 weeks to six weeks in South Wales, and from 56 to four weeks in North Wales with additional money from Welsh Government starting to make a difference.

However, wheelchair waiting lists for adults remain much higher, at 17 weeks in South Wales and 52 weeks in North Wales. These figures have dropped in the last 12 months from 86 weeks and 35 weeks, but they remain high, with far too many disabled adults being stranded in their homes without an appropriate powered chair.

MS Society Cymru remains concerned at the length of waiting lists in North Wales and that additional funding is still needed to get these down - 52 weeks for a wheelchair is unacceptable.

The one unanswered question remains - why are waiting lists so much higher in North Wales than in South Wales? The inquiry has demonstrated that having the right systems in place can be as just as important as having additional funding.

The Cardiff wheelchair service brought its wheelchair repair and supplying service in-house 18 months ago and is looking to relocate most of the back office staff and therapists to the same site as the engineers.

In North Wales the supplying and servicing of equipment is undertaken by another company. This could be a factor.

On the other hand getting appropriate levels of funding are incredibly important. Waiting lists for children came down dramatically when additional money was provided - no extra money came for adults.

What next? In the autumn the Welsh Government will have its opportunity to respond to the inquiry. Whatever the specific points it is clear that this is an issue that has not been fully tackled and needs the minister to keep a watchful eye.

Most of the pieces are in place to turn the wheelchair service around but without a strong commitment from Welsh Government the progress could stall. No one wants to be back here in two years time holding another inquiry because little has been achieved. …