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Kent wheelchair users call for NHS to cancel contract with Millbrook Healthcare

A disabled rights expert is calling on the NHS to cancel its contract with a wheelchair provider after he claimed the service is the “worst it’s ever been”.

Professor Mike Oliver, who has been a wheelchair user for more than 56 years, claims the current NHS-funded service is ‘bullying’ customers and its employees.

The Kent and Medway wheelchair service is delivered by Millbrook Healthcare, and was given the contract by NHS Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) on behalf of the eight CCGs across the county.

Professor Mike Oliver of the Kent Wheelchair Users Group
Professor Mike Oliver of the Kent Wheelchair Users Group

Representing the Kent Wheelchair Users Group, Prof Oliver told how one user was forced to undergo an operation due to pressure sores, months after he raised a complaint with Milbrook.

The company has apologised for patients having to endure longer waiting times for repairs.

Prof Oliver, whose wheelchair arm is fixed together with tape, said: “I have to say the service now is the worst that it has ever been.

“This isn’t just my opinion but also those I represent.

“I’ve been involved with disability politics for more than 40 years and I have never been involved in any initiatives and campaigns where there has been complete unanimity.

“There is complete unanimity amongst all of our groups that there is no alternative, in our opinion, but to remove the contract from Milbrook.

“We don’t like coming to that conclusion and we have a track record going back over 20 years of working inside the system and doing our best to improve it from the inside.”

The professor of Disability Studies at the University of Greenwich added wheelchair users met with Milbrook in November last year but clinical staff and senior management turned up late.

He said: “There were no apologies or nothing. There must have been 10 wheelchair users there, all of whom, have transport issues but managed to get to the meeting on time.

“That was reflective of their attitude.

“I have to say the service now is the worst that it has ever been..." - Professor Mike Oliver

“They didn’t really take what we had to say seriously and we were assured all the problems we were highlighting stem from the previous provider not passing on adequate data and so on.

“We don’t accept for one minute that all of the failure was due to the previous regimes.

“That is a tactic that quite often new contract holders use.”

He also added since that meeting the wheelchair users were promised improvements but “it continues to get worse”.

Milbrook Healthcare communications manager Ria Wilcox said: “Following an independent audit commissioned by the CCGs, we are now in a position to understand the full scale of the issues, which we are working together on.

“We are taking this situation very seriously and we apologise for the time it has taken to get to this point, however, it has been necessary given the issues presented.

“The CCGs recognise that cost-pressures have had an impact on the day-to-day running of the service, leading to longer waiting times for patients, for which we are very sorry.

“Through working together, it’s been agreed that additional funds are required to clear the backlog of those waiting for equipment and repairs.

“NHS Thanet CCG is committed to working with the CCGs across Kent and Medway to gain approval to release the necessary funds to do this.

“The additional funding will be linked to a plan with clear timelines for issuing equipment and repairs to all service users who have been waiting for 18-weeks or more, with those who have been waiting for longer than a year being prioritised.

“Service users who are referred into the service as urgent will continue to be prioritised.”

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