HL Deb 08 July 1981 vol 422 cc814-6WA
Viscount Ingleby

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress is being made on research into the production of lighter weight wheelchairs and calipers.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

At the present time there is no research being sponsored by the department into the production of lighter weight wheelchairs; indeed there is no evidence that the demand for even lighter weight wheelchairs than those now supplied would justify such research. The survey by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys onWheelchairs and their Users, the report of which was published in February 1977, did not indicate that weight was a problem.

The standard occupant controlled wheelchair built to the department's own specification weighs about 40 pounds. The frame is fabricated from a special lightweight steel tubing. A model made of light alloy weighing about 10 pounds less is also available from the department when medically necessary. The models which are commonly sold privately, and are sometimes provided by the department, weigh rather more.

For normal propulsion the varying weights of wheel-chairs are of little significance compared with the total weight of chair and occupant. Weight is a more important factor if the chair has to be lifted for storage or stowing in a car boot and it is in these sort of circumstances that the lightest weight models may be provided. It is also of relatively more importance for child users although sturdiness is also often required. The standard model for children supplied by the department weighs 32 pounds.

Lightweight plastic calipers and other leg braces are now available through the National Health Service and research, based on experience gained from the use of these appliances, is continuing. Modification of an existing design of lightweight plastic caliper has recently resulted in improved fit in the shoe with corresponding improvement in comfort and safety for the users. A lightweight "off the shelf" brace for the support of unstable painful knees has been developed. In some cases this brace can be used instead of a caliper. At present officers of the department are co-operating with researchers and manufacturers to make these two developments more widely available.

At two centres the department is supporting research into caliper loadings. The result of this research may lead to lighter weight designs in time.