Andrew Stevenson BHTA

BHTA Chairman Andrew Stevenson has praised the efforts of providers of community equipment and assistive technology services who have pulled together to help the health and social care system cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

In late March, major outsourced Community Equipment Services providers announced that they would form a new working group, headed up the BHTA, to help coordinate efforts and support one another during the crisis.

Later that same month, Wheelchair Services providers announced a similar working group, with the same aims of assisting each other to ensure continuity of service for service users.

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Arguably two of the most competitive sectors in the mobility, access and independent living industry, the notion that companies such as Medequip, Millbrook Healthcare, NRS Healthcare would share information and closely collaborate would have been inconceivable a month before.

The unprecedented outbreak of the coronavirus and subsequent pressure on the entire health and social care system completely changed the landscape, with rival companies swiftly agreeing to work together for the good of the nation in a level of collaboration never before witnessed in the industry.

Playing a key role in helping to chair the various working groups and bring the companies together, Andrew told THIIS that the commitment shown by these strong competitors has been extraordinary.

“From day one, the different services providers have shared information that would have been unthinkable just a month previously,” he explained.

“Companies have shared staffing levels concerning sick and shielding staff, stock and equipment availability and shortages.

“It reflects just how committed they are to helping the NHS, local authorities and, importantly, service users, throughout the pandemic. Discussions have been open & friendly and if a company is struggling, there is a real willingness to try and help.”

According to Andrew, this level of coordination has been vital as the health and social care system continues to face more strain and challenges over each passing day.

Discussing some of the problems confronting the providers of community equipment, Andrew acknowledged that returns were at the top of the list.

“One of the biggest challenges facing CES providers is collections, as those with equipment do not want people, understandably, in their homes,” he pointed out.

“Unfortunately, this is compounded by a greater need for community equipment as the NHS accelerates the discharge of patients from hospitals to free up bed capacity.”

Recently, NHS Trusts and local authorities have issued appeals to those with unwanted and unneeded community equipment, with Devon County Council warning of potential stock shortages for items such as commodes.

It is an issue the Community Equipment Services working group is looking to tackle head-on with a new national campaign in the pipeline to encourage people to return unneeded equipment.

PPE is another issue that, like many healthcare providers across the UK, the working group is facing.

“Availability of PPE is a national problem and is essential for Community Equipment Services providers required to carry out work in individuals’ homes and care homes for some of the most vulnerable in society,” said Andrew.

“Currently, the working group is looking at consolidating procurement of PPE, as well as of spares and equipment, to avoid issues of shortages and ensure continuity of support for the NHS and local authorities.”

For the providers of Wheelchair Services, issues surrounding PPE and returns are also present, however, the Wheelchair Services working group also faces unique challenges inherent to the nature of wheelchair provision.

“For Wheelchair Services, users are more exposed when it comes to assessment and repairs because of the proximity needed to take measurements, ensure the correct fit and more. At the same time, some in-house services have been scaled back as staff have been redeployed across the NHS, leaving some geographical areas less covered,” explained Andrew.

“This has meant some Wheelchair Service customers have potentially faced difficulties obtaining service and maintenance support which is a significant concern as wheelchairs play such a pivotal role in users’ lives.

“The Wheelchair Services working group has committed to working with other Wheelchair Groups and regional in-house services to mitigate wheelchair users’ issues by combining their resources.”

Emphasising that many of the challenges wheelchair services and wheelchair users are experiencing are replicated across the country, Andrew stressed that members of the WCS are working tirelessly to provide support wherever there are hot spots or shortfalls in services.

To help service users, the BHTA recently launched an online map to help wheelchair users identify the nearest service that is still operating.

“The working group is keen to support users that are just being issued with products for hospital discharge and for others whose conditions are changing and need to be assessed as part of their ongoing clinical needs,” added Andrew.

See the map here

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