HC Deb 05 February 1991 vol 185 cc143-4
1. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what representations he has received about the provision of powered wheelchairs; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Stephen Dorrell)

We have received a number of representations about the provision of indoor and outdoor powered wheelchairs.

Mr. Thurnham

After the success of the pilot schemes in Manchester and Newcastle, will my hon. Friend make sure that sufficient funds are available to maintain national progress? Will he see what can be done to reduce the very high costs of powered wheelchairs?

Mr. Dorrell

As my hon. Friend knows, it was always the intention that the services that are currently run by the Disablement Services Authority should be transferred to health authorities with effect from April this year. We have set in place arrangements that will ring-fence the funding that is currently granted to the Disablement Services Authority for two years, to ensure that, in the immediate aftermath of the transfer, the real level of provision will be maintained.

Mr. Frank Field

Does the Minister think it fair that some of the most disabled people in Birkenhead are those who are least likely to get a powered wheelchair? If he does not think that that is fair, what will he do about it?

Mr. Dorrell

What we are doing about it is that, from April, the local health authority will have the resources available to make a properly prioritised decision about the way in which those resources should be used. It will be for the hon. Gentleman to take up that matter with his local health authority to ensure that the people who need such services have them provided.

Mr. Atkinson

Will my hon. Friend take advantage of this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the various associations for the disabled and the St. John Ambulance brigade, whose work makes the lives of those who rely on wheelchairs much more normal?

Mr. Dorrell

I am happy to take the opportunity that my hon. Friend presents to pay tribute to the role of the voluntary agencies in this and many other matters related to health. It is right also to take this opportunity to draw attention to the valuable work that has been done by the Disablement Services Authority, which was set up by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he held a different brief. It has made a substantial improvement in the efficiency with which resources are used to the benefit of the patients who use such services.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is not it the general view, after the pilot experiments in Manchester and Newcastle, that the Government's offer of £1 million in response to the DSA's request for £10 million is woefully inadequate? After all, we are talking here about independent living for people who would otherwise have to rely on much more expensive institutional care. Will powered wheelchairs be available for casualties from the Gulf if, ultimately, they can be of help?

Mr. Dorrell

The decision on the provision of a powered wheelchair for an individual patient will be for health authorities and clinicians. From April, the £112 million budget for disablement services—the provision of wheelchairs and of artificial limbs—will be transferred to local health authorities so that they can use the resources in a way that reflects local priorities. That seems to be the most effective way of ensuring that resources are well used.

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