PROPOSALS to remove shared wheelchairs from care homes – as well as ending automatic entitlement for the terminally ill and those with behavioural issues – have been voted through by health representatives and councillors after they were initially postponed.

The changes – expected to save nearly £40,000 – were put forward as the Posture and Mobility Clinic, in Heywood, was struggling to afford equipment and meet national waiting time targets.

The service caters for patients in Bury and Rochdale.

But Karen Hurley, deputy chief officer of Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said every penny would be ploughed back into the service.

She said: “It’s not about finance, within the paper it talks about £37,000 in savings but, actually, that would be reinvested to ensure that the delivery of the service is of high quality and meets the needs of the individual being referred.”

Ms Hurley also said that she wanted to ‘make it clear’ that no one who needed a wheelchair would be left without one.

Wheelchairs will not be taken from elderly care home residents who have one modified to their specifications, but shared chairs used on an ‘as-and-when’ basis, will be withdrawn and not replaced.

A recent survey found many as 80% were permanently broken or in a state of ill-repair and could potentially pose a risk to patients.

There are 286 wheelchairs booked out to care homes across the boroughs of Rochdale and Bury - and recent audit suggests that fewer than 20 per cent of these are in good working order, with the rest either in need of repair, broken, or lost.

Patients receiving end-of-life-care and those who may need them on occasion due to behavioural problems will now be assessed for a chair under a needs-based system.

However, Ms Hurley stressed that the NHS would always be flexible and take exceptional circumstances into account.

She said that, while the proposals were drawn up, there had been particular concern about those who may need chairs for behavioural reasons – such as youngsters with autism.

And Ms Hurley added that a meeting of the Clinical and Professional Advisory Panel (CPAP) acknowledged there could be an impact on some patients’ ‘mental and emotional wellbeing.’

“There was agreement that within NHS policies there’s always consideration for exceptionality,” she said.

“It wouldn’t be that individual can walk, they don’t need a wheelchair, they would be looking at the whole reason.”

Deputy council leader Sara Rowbotham agreed that needs-based assessments seemed ‘the most sensible solution’ but said they should ‘not be too complicated or complex for people who are in difficult circumstances.’

Rochdale council’s chief executive Steve Rumbelow, who is not a voting member of the committee, added: “This is focused on improving the overall service that clearly requires some improvement.

“What we need to be assured of is that people in any circumstances that require a wheelchair, will get a wheelchair, and we’ve had the reassurance.”

The new regime will be monitored and an update on how the service is performing will be provided in 12 months’ time, on the request of council leader Allen Brett.

He also stressed the importance of ensuring wheelchairs are returned to the service when a patients’ circumstances change, emphasising the need to make ‘efficient use of resources.’