By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A Thanet councillor has questioned whether an NHS wheelchair service in Kent is ‘fit for purpose’.
Kent County Council remains concerned over Thanet NHS Clinical Commissioning Group’s commissioned wheelchair service, provided by Millbrook Healthcare, on behalf of the county’s eight CCGs.
Despite ‘steady’ improvements, NHS representatives told KCC’s health and overview scrutiny committee yesterday (January 29) that performance continues to be ‘off trajectory’ for wheelchair repairs, within three working days, while child referral wait lists have continued to rise since January 2019.
Cllr Lesley Game (Con) probed health bosses on the recent 12-month performance during the Maidstone County Hall meeting, asking: “Would you say the service is fit for purpose?”
Around 294 wheelchair repairs were completed last month, but just 43% within three working days. It means patients are waiting, on average, six working days for a standard repair to be completed.
Despite this, Milbrook bosses have said the majority of the delays relate to waiting for parts to be ordered in for ‘specialist’ repairs.
In addition, child referrals have risen over the last six months, with an average increase of 27 children referred each month. In December, 236 children had been referred.
Just over 80% of these children waited less than 18 weeks to be seen. The trust says this represents a vast improvement from 12 months ago, where 53% waited less than 18 weeks, but this still falls short of the 92% national target.
The KCC health committee was told that a ‘remedial action plan’ remains in place to monitor Millbrook’s performance closely.
East Kent CCGs’ director of partnerships, membership and engagement, Alisa Ogilvie, focused more on the positives during yesterday’s meeting. She said waiting lists for wheelchair equipment are decreasing while the average patient wait times are ‘shortening’.
Commenting on the recent monetary boost from new owners, private investment firm, Caringorm Capital, she added: “The expectation is Millbrook will be able to deliver a service with a larger budget in place.”
A CCG quality visit has rated the overall service as ‘good’.
However, inspectors found several areas which require improvement, including ‘proactive’ communication with patients to assist with repairs and an improvement in service delivery.
Cllr Nick Chard (Con), said: “I think it’s an improving prospect, but I would still want us to have a watching brief.”
The overall waiting list has reduced from its peak of 3,313 in September 2018 to 1,378 open cases at the end of December last year, latest NHS data reveals.
Around 7,348 referrals concluded over the last 12 months while the number of people waiting for a wheelchair repair for more than 10 days reduced from 132 at the end of January 2019 to 50 at the end of last month.
This is how it has been in the public services for years. Cut a bit here, then cut back a bit there. Gradually whittling away the quality of the service so we end up not even expecting a useful service. We get used to waiting in the (long) queue. We wait months for operations. In pain. We come to expect Benefits to keep falling. For wages to hardly keep up. To have to give up work because we have a dependent child or parent because childcare is totally non-existent or too expensive. We accept that young couples have to stay with parents for years because there are no Council properties available.
And, unlike the French, we meekly accept having to wait until we are 70 years old or older, before we can give up work.
And then, when given a General election, 45%of us vote for more of the same and we are told that the Labour alternative, “just wasn’t believable”. We are so ground down and defeated, we can’t even imagine anything better!