Councils say that buying new mobility aids can be more “financially viable” than recycling and reissuing equipment
Nikki Fox, the BBC’s disability correspondent, has investigated how much money could be saved by recycling mobility aids, such as crutches and Zimmer frames, versus the cost of buying new equipment.
As seen on BBC Inside Out West, millions of pounds are wasted on mobility equipment each year unnecessarily which could be reused.
One person interviewed remarked how he had been to his local authority to try and return his mobility equipment, but they said they couldn’t take it and told him to “take it to the tip.”
Similarly, another interviewee said that when he had tried to return a pair of crutches to his local hospital, that they did not take them and instead spoke about having to clean the equipment to a certain extent to avoid cross-contamination before being re-issued to another patient. However, he disputed this response by saying that the crutches had no “wear and tear” and could easily be cleaned and put back into use.
The investigation unveiled that across England, health authorities and councils spend £207 million each year on mobility aids.
According to information obtained from a Freedom of Information Request, from April 2017-2018 in West England, around £17.5 million was spent on mobility equipment, more than 430,000 of mobility products were loaned out and 270,000 items were returned.
This is amidst a national campaign from the Government which is urging the NHS to recycle unwanted mobility aids to save thousands of pounds. Yet, it is the responsibilities of individual owners to set up their own recycling scheme.
The NHS in Barnsley has set up its own mobility equipment recycling initiative. According to NHS Barnsley’s Mark Foster, over the last financial year, this scheme has allowed them to collect around 14,000 mobility items and around 94 percent of these were able to be recycled. This has led to a significant saving of around £300,000, Mark said.
However, the BBC investigation showed that councils throughout England spent £187 million on mobility aids last year, handed out around 3.5 million items and around 2 million items were returned.
Yet, councils have flagged the issue that recycling mobility aids could actually be costlier than buying new equipment.
A spokesperson from the Local Government Association said: “Each council has to balance the costs of collection, cleaning and reissuing devices against the costs of providing new equipment.
“It is not always financially viable… especially given the difficult financial pressures currently facing councils.”