Better Care

One-stop shop for child wheelchair service

Children with disabilities are getting the mobility equipment they need more quickly thanks to joint working between wheelchair services and paediatric physiotherapy.

Birmingham Wheelchair Service has worked diligently over the past 12 months to reduce waiting times as a whole and bring the children’s referrals within 18 weeks to meet the national target.

The service has worked closely with the children’s physiotherapy team to streamline the pathway and reduce the amount of appointments required.

Key to this one-stop shop approach was the introduction of clinics at the West Midlands Rehabilitation Centre in Selly Oak, where the service has a range of wheelchairs in stock.

Lead rehabilitation engineer Clive Brotherton said: “We are able to store several models at our rehab centre in Selly Oak which gives families the chance to try out different types of chair and, with our support and advice, find one that best meets their child’s needs.”

(left to right) Bobby and Leo Sproston
(left to right) Bobby and Leo Sproston

The teams managed to streamline the process further by assessing patients before they attend, using their referral form to ensure there is suitable equipment on site so that they can leave their first appointment with a suitable wheelchair.

Follow-up appointments to check how the child is getting on with their wheelchair and any adjustments needed take place either at school (if they attend a special school) or at the family’s home.  Additional clinics for the schools are added if required depending on the waiting list.

Paediatric physiotherapist Julian Brown said: “Because of the rate at which children grow and develop, they can need regular adjustments to their chair. 

“My role includes checking that the child’s postural and physical needs are met with their equipment.

“By seeing them in different environments we can get a better idea of the challenges they face and if their equipment is meeting their needs in all these different places.

“Being in school works well - it’s less disruptive for the children and their families. It also allows us to work closely with the school staff, who see the children every day, to ensure we get the full picture of the child’s needs.”

Lead occupational therapist Janet Mealey said: “This improvement to the service wouldn’t have been possible without our administration team – they co-ordinate the clinics, order the equipment in a timely way, send reminders to parents and update clinic lists when children are off sick.  Having this dedicated resource makes our job possible.”

The wheelchair team.
From left: senior paediatric physiotherapist Julian Brown; lead occupational therapist Janet Mealey; lead rehabilitation engineer Clive Brotherton and physiotherapy assistant Trudi Woloszyniuk.

Amy and Robert Sproston live in Sutton Coldfield with their two sons Leo (four) and Bobby (three). They have been accessing the wheelchair service for the past three years.

At five months old, Leo developed sepsis and was rushed to hospital after he stopped breathing.

Leo’s mum Amy recalls: “The ambulance arrived and did CPR, which continued all the way to hospital, but we nearly lost him. When he arrived at hospital they were about to call time of death, but then they managed to find a pulse.”

The hospital staff managed to resuscitate Leo, but due to the amount of time he’d been without oxygen, he suffered permanent brain damage and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Leo spent two months recovering in hospital before returning home, and a few months later the family had some unexpected but exciting news. 

“I found out I was pregnant again! It was a surprise, and a very busy time for us, but we were excited that Leo would have a little brother or sister.”

Nine months later, Bobby arrived - seemingly healthy. However from quite early on Amy and her husband Robert noticed Bobby wasn’t moving his legs. After further investigations in hospital, it was revealed that Bobby had permanent damage to his spine, which would prevent him from walking.

As the boys have grown and become more mobile, the family have regularly accessed the wheelchair and physio services to help meet the boys’ ongoing, different needs.

Amy said: “From a very young age Bobby was very active. He has a strong upper body so was able to use a low-level self-propelling wheelchair before he’d even turned two.

Amy said: “Once he was ready for the next wheelchair it was difficult to find him one small enough as he was still quite young. Luckily the team managed to source a chair from America, and were able to adjust it to suit him.

“His chair is very lightweight so he can manoeuvre himself around easily – he’s learned some great tricks including wheelies and bouncing, which he enjoys showing off to his nursery friends!”

Leo, who attends Wilson Stuart School in Erdington, has recently been assessed for an electric wheelchair.

Amy said: “We can’t wait for Leo’s new chair to arrive! 

Up until now I’ve been pushing him around and he will signal to me if he wants to see something or go somewhere – but sometimes I miss those signals. Having a chair he can control himself will give him so much more independence.”

“The school already has an electric wheelchair which he has been testing out for the last few weeks which has been really useful as it’s given him more confidence in using it and the physio and wheelchair team have been able to assess him in it.”

“I can’t fault the team. In some circumstances, going into a room with several clinical people in it can be intimidating, but I never feel like that with this team. They immediately put the boys and me at ease and, more importantly, understand what they need.”

  • In recognition of the progress made through this improvement work, the team was nominated in the 'responsible' category in the November 2019 Values in Practice awards.
Leo and Bobby Sproston with physio Chloe Smith.
Leo and Bobby Sproston with physio Chloe Smith.