§ 9. Mr. Frank Cook
To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people have received an electric wheelchair from their local health authority since the introduction of the scheme. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Simon Burns)
Since the scheme for severely disabled people came into operation, 64 powered wheelchairs have been issued. By March 1997, wheelchair services are expected to have used the full allocation of this year's £6.4 million additional money.
§ Mr. Cook
A good half million individuals are confined to national health service hand-powered wheelchairs. Many hon. Members will know how difficult it is, even for able-bodied people, to propel or manoeuvre such appliances. The departmental guidelines suggest that only people who cannot stand or walk should be eligible for powered wheelchairs. Will the Minister give an undertaking to review those guidance notes? Will he also tell the House what financial provisions will be made in the next financial year?
§ Mr. Burns
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. The Government are determined to provide severely disabled people with as much help as possible. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that two different schemes for wheelchair users were announced. Over the next four years, £50 million extra will be made available, on top of the current funding of £40 million a year, £27 million of which is for powered wheelchairs.
The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that the setting of the criteria, and the guidance for the assessment of people eligible for a powered wheelchair, were determined at local level in consultation with user groups and voluntary organisations.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
Does the Minister agree that the slow take-up of the powered wheelchair scheme is bound to be repeated under the wheelchair voucher scheme, which the Government announced with a great fanfare last February as part of the same initiative? What have the Government learnt since then? Why have disabled people and their organisations waited for months for Government guidelines that have been postponed again and again? Does he accept that the House and disabled people were given a clear pledge last February? When do the Government intend to announce their timetable, their proposals for implementation and their plans to honour the promises they gave to disabled people and to the House last winter?
§ Mr. Burns
I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not give the Government credit for providing significant additional funding to help the severely disabled 1029 with their wheelchairs. With regard to the implementation of the scheme for powered wheelchairs, for which the £6.4 million has been made available—
§ Mr. Burns
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have the courtesy to listen to my answer.
The orders were laid in July, and then it was a matter of establishing the criteria of eligibility. The hon. Gentleman would be the first to criticise us if we had rushed that and got it wrong. When the voucher scheme was announced, it was made plain that it would be introduced gradually over the next four years, starting at the end of this financial year. The guidance that has been worked on through the summer is almost complete, following consultations with user groups and other organisations, and we hope to publish it shortly.