How to get a wheelchair
If you decide that you, or someone you are caring for, would benefit from a wheelchair, there are three main sources to consider.
- The NHS: a majority of regular wheelchair users rely on equipment supplied by the NHS. You will first need to complete an assessment of your mobility needs.
- Wheelchair hire or loan schemes: there are a number of charitable or voluntary schemes that can provide short-term wheelchair loans.
- Buying a wheelchair: you can purchase a wheelchair through a mobility shop. In some cases, you may be a given a voucher to cover some of the cost.
Read on for more information on the different options.
NHS wheelchair services
Most people who use a wheelchair all the time (as opposed to just needing one for longer distances or days out) have an NHS wheelchair. An NHS wheelchair is loaned, rather than given to you, and the NHS is responsible for its maintenance and repairs.
In Northern Ireland, wheelchairs that are needed on a day-to-day basis are managed through the occupational therapist services of the local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust.
The NHS wheelchair service offers assessments to determine what type of wheelchair or mobility equipment you may be entitled to. In most cases, you’ll be referred to the service by a hospital, doctor, consultant or occupational therapist. However, the specific criteria to determine who is eligible will vary depending on where you live. Many wheelchair services have a waiting list, so you may have to wait several weeks after referral before you get an assessment.
In general, wheelchair services are available to people of all ages who have a long-term need for mobility help. If you need a wheelchair for a shorter time, you might want to think about wheelchair hire.
Buying a wheelchair
Rather than loaning you a wheelchair directly, some NHS wheelchair services will give you a non-taxable voucher that you can put towards buying your own wheelchair. The voucher is for the amount you would have been given after your assessment and is designed to give you more choice.
If your local area offers a wheelchair voucher scheme, you can opt to pay for the maintenance of your wheelchair privately and keep the wheelchair permanently. If the NHS maintains the wheelchair, you return it if and when you no longer need it.
If you opt to buy a wheelchair without using the NHS, and you’re chronically sick or disabled, you don’t have to pay VAT. You may also be able to get help towards paying for it from charities or your local authority.
See our article on choosing a wheelchair to help you get the right type.
Where to buy wheelchairs
You can buy wheelchairs online but, while you might get a good price, you’ll need to be sure it’s the right wheelchair for you and that you can set up and use it safely. A local mobility shop can offer advice and an after-care service.
Before you buy, try out the specific type of wheelchair in the place you’re going to use it – for example, at home or on the pavement – to make sure it’s right for you.
Consumer organisation RiDC has a database of powered or electric wheelchairs to allow you to search for a model that meets your needs.
Disabled Living Centres
Before deciding on a specific style of wheelchair, it’s a good idea to try them out around the house or on the local roads. There are Disabled Living Centres around the country, which have a wide range of equipment on display and can give advice on the different styles of wheelchairs for sale.
Your local authority should be able to advise on the nearest equipment demonstration or Disabled Living Centre to you. The Disabled Living Foundation also maintains a list of disability equipment demonstration centres in the UK.
Read about the differences between manual and electric wheelchairs and how to customise yours for greater comfort.
Getting the right home adaptations can help you to stay safe and independent for as long as possible.
Our guide to the different types of mobility scooter for the pavement and the road, and what to consider when buying.