Assistive technologies services providers coming together during COVID-19 crisis
Leading outsourced providers of assistive technologies services are working collaboratively to ensure continuity of provision as the health and social care system works to cope under pandemic pressures.
In March, community equipment services and wheelchair services providers formed working groups, headed up the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA), to help coordinate efforts across various areas of provision.
Andrew Stevenson, Chairman of the BHTA, praised the speed and willingness of rival service providers to share information and collaborate so closely.
“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.”
According to Andrew, this level of coordination has been and will continue to be essential throughout the pandemic as the health and social care system faces growing challenges.
“It reflects just how committed they are to helping the NHS, local authorities and, importantly, service users, throughout the pandemic,” he added.
“Discussions have been open & friendly and if a company is struggling, there is a real willingness to try and help.”
Discussing some of the problems confronting providers of community equipment services, Andrew acknowledged 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 across the country appealed for people with unneeded community equipment to return it as soon as possible, with Devon County Council warning of potential stock shortages for items such as commodes.
Adding to the call, the new community equipment services working group issued a nationwide appeal to encourage returns, stressing the safety measures in place to keep vulnerable people when items are collected.
Alongside the return of loaned equipment, the working group is also facing a growing scarcity of PPE.
“Availability of PPE is a national problem and is essential for community equipment providers carrying out work in individuals’ homes and care homes where they may come into contact with 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 are also present, however, the working group also faces its own 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.”
Andrew’s comments come in the wake of a letter issued by NHS England to Clinical Commissioning Group leaders in early April, advising services relating to lower and medium priority wheelchair provision work is stopped in a bid to free up and redeploy resources.
To help wheelchair users that may struggle to find which wheelchair services are still operational during the pandemic, the BHTA working group has recently launched an online map pinpointing available service.
“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,” stated Andrew.
“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.”
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.