§ Mr. Carter-Jones
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his Department's annual expenditure on research into the design of wheelchairs; what proportion the figure is of the total expenditure on the wheelchair service; what action he is taking to improve wheelchair design; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
Expenditure by my Department on research into and development of wheelchair design and associated accessories amounted to about £40,000 in 1977–78. This was about 0.7 per cent. of the annual cost of supply and repair of wheelchairs. Expenditure in the current year is expected to be about twice the amount spent last year.
In addition, research and development is carried out independently at universities and other institutions, and by wheelchair manufacturers, often with a measure of help from my Department and particularly in relation to facilities and statistics. Moreover, wheelchairs can sometimes be improved without heavy spending on research and development: for example, adopting cold drawn seamless alloy steel tubing has resulted in a welcome reduction in the weight of wheelchairs supplied by my Department.
Improvements to the design of wheelchairs and accessories supplied by my Department are always under consideration and are made as and when opportunities occur. Some recent examples include a foot steering mechanism for hemiplegics and a child's transit chair with rigid seat and backrest. Currently under development are growing chairs for children, hub braking, improved swinging footrests and an up-dated version of the much used transit model for adults.