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After conducting extensive research, the British Red Cross is calling on the UK Government to introduce a statutory duty for the provision of short-term wheelchairs, in the same way that it exists for long-term provision.

Providing insight into the scale of unmet needs across the UK, the report – ‘Maintaining mobility: Understanding the unmet need for short-term mobility aids’ – found that short-term provision of wheelchairs is inconsistent and varies from place to place, impacting on large amounts of people.

The report highlights some of the main issues regarding not getting a wheelchair when it is needed, such as social isolation, inability to get to important places like hospital appointments or work, and the fear of falling.

Due to the ageing population, the number of people with long-term and complex needs will grow. The British Red Cross is concerned that with this, the level of unmet needs will also increase.

In light of this, the charity makes suggestions in its report for simple improvements to ensure that anyone who requires a wheelchair can access one that is right for them for as long as they need it.

The study

The British Red Cross surveyed 4,236 individuals aged 16 upwards from across the UK.

Additionally, the charity called 139 publicly listed statutory wheelchair providers in the UK to request information surrounding their provision of short-term wheelchairs.

Key findings

  • Less than 25 percent of NHS wheelchair providers currently loan short-term wheelchairs.
  • Out of 139 listed NHS wheelchair providers only 25 confirmed that they provide short-term wheelchairs, with many saying that the reason they did not provide short-term wheelchairs was because there was not a statutory duty to do so.
  • Due to a lack of access to mobility equipment, 65 percent of those with an unmet mobility need experienced significant negative impact on their quality of life, including not being able to go to work and becoming housebound.
  • Out of those who borrowed a short-term wheelchair, 9 out of 10 people said it was very helpful and enabled them to manage daily activities, while 87 percent said it made it easier for family and friends to help them.
  • Almost half of the participants said that using a wheelchair sped up their recovery time.
  • Both healthcare professionals and individuals themselves had low awareness of the potential benefits of using a wheelchair when experiencing a temporary mobility restriction.
  • Only half of the people asked who had experienced a mobility issue and did not have a mobility aid thought it could have been useful.
  • Just over 40 percent said that they did not want to use a wheelchair, commenting that it is a sign of a weakness or ageing.
  • From its research, the British Red Cross estimated that 4.3 million people across the UK had a mobility issue which could have been met by a mobility aid.
  • 44 percent of respondents who had a short-term mobility issue but had no access to a wheelchair felt that they would have benefitted from a wheelchair loan.


  • The British Red Cross suggests that the Government should introduce a statutory duty to provide short-term wheelchair provision.
  • Health and care services should introduce holistic mobility assessments for people with short-term mobility difficulties.
  • Information and training should be provided to health and care professionals to ensure that they can advise people with short-term mobility needs on appropriate mobility aids, including wheelchairs.
  • Statutory health and social care services should improve the provision of short-term wheelchairs in their area by exploring ways to deliver short-term wheelchair loans in a more consistent way to the people who need them.
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