My First Wheelchair Matters

We’re calling on the Government to ensure that all young children get the right wheelchair at the right time through NHS Wheelchair Services

My First Wheelchair Matters: reshaping NHS wheelchair services for children aged 3-5

Too many children aged 3-5 years with limited mobility are missing out on receiving an appropriate wheelchair from their local NHS wheelchair service across the country. This is due to the very strict eligibility and issuing criteria that the NHS uses to decide whether someone can receive a wheelchair and what type.  

Often, children aged 3-5 years with limited mobility are ineligible for a wheelchair from the NHS wheelchair service. Many who approach the NHS either do not receive any equipment at all or are offered a standard ‘buggy’. While the buggy might be beneficial for some young children aged 3-5 years, this equipment is unsuitable for many young children because it does not meet their clinical or social needs, nor allow them to be independent. Generally, parents are often left with no other option but to buy a commercially available wheelchair or buggy for their child that is likely to be unsuitable, unless they can get support through a charity provider, like Whizz-Kidz. 

Why should children aged 3-5 receive mobility equipment through the NHS?

The right equipment at the right time creates immediate and long-term health, development and social benefits for the young child, and also their parents/caregivers. These positive impacts include:

  • social integration and ability to learn and play with peers
  • greater independence
  • creativity through better exploration of their environment
  • participation in home, school, life and leisure
  • improved parental productivity, and physical and mental health because of reduced caregiver obligations.

Luna's Story

Her mum, Abby, says: Since receiving her chair from Whizz Kidz, Luna’s confidence has grown so much, and she’s gained so much more independence. She is now able to access everything in nursery and keep up with her friends. She also loves chasing her brothers and sisters around! All of which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Whizz Kidz!

Luna in her awesome pink wheelchair with a Whizz Kidz team member next to her

What happens when children aged 3-5 don’t get the right equipment?

There are several negative impacts of not receiving the right equipment, including:

  • development of secondary disabilities such as poor motor, cognitive and social abilities
  • social isolation
  • increased dependency and therefore reduced parental productivity
  • reduced participation in education and employment as they age.

Here’s what parents of young children aged 3-5 have said when their child cannot receive the right equipment:

"My child cannot walk at all unaided – he needs a wheelchair for his safety and a better quality of life so he is able to go out and see new things, and have fun."

"My child is currently pushed around in their buggy. There is no independence for him. At school, in the playground, and during times out and about with family, he is pushed."

"My child doesn’t have the opportunity to live their life to the fullest. He can’t keep up with his peers so unfortunately, he misses out on a lot of time to socialise."

"Our son would like to go out with his siblings when they are on their bikes. He would be stuck indoors when it was sunny outside and his siblings are having fun on bikes and scooters."

"Our home is situated on a hill, so not having a motorised wheelchair for our child makes it difficult for them to access the community."

Our demands to the Government 

We’re calling on the Government to extend NHS wheelchair service provision to children aged 3-5 so they can get the right equipment at the right time. And, by ‘right equipment’, we mean wheelchairs that meet young children's holistic needs so they can be mobile, enabled, and included throughout all aspects of their life. Their first wheelchair matters. 

As part of this, we demand the Government review and change the eligibility and issuing criteria, known as the NHS Model Wheelchair Service Specification, that has stopped children aged 5 and under from receiving the right wheelchair from the NHS. We also call on them to expand the pool of available wheelchairs and additional mobility equipment that the NHS wheelchair service can prescribe so young children can receive innovative equipment that promotes independent mobility.  

Campaign with us

This year, we asked parents and carers to ‘Share Your Story’ of their and their child’s experience of navigating the NHS wheelchair service when their child was aged 5 or under. Over 50 parents and carers told us their story, from how satisfied they were with the NHS, whether their child received equipment, the type of equipment offered, how suitable the equipment was, and the impact of this experience on their lives.

Thank you to the parents and carers who shared their story with us to help campaign for a fairer NHS wheelchair service for children aged 3-5 years. We look forward to sharing the findings in a report later this year.

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