Disabled people need better specialist equipment

For many disabled people, assistive technology is crucial to their ability to choose how they want to live and whether they can live independently.

Technological support comes in many forms – it can be as simple as a tap turner, or as complex as an environmental control system. While many disabled people are already using these technologies successfully, some people have very complex needs which are not met by the current equipment or service models.

A new discussion document produced by the Royal College of Physicians and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine emphasises the importance of multi-professional input to customise the equipment, design individual bespoke solutions and to safely integrate different kinds of equipment. The document focuses on four key areas of assistive technology – communication aids, computer access, environmental control systems and telecare. It includes specific examples to show that designing the technology around specific needs can have life-enhancing effects.

‘Specialist Equipment Services for Disabled People: The Need for Change’ makes eight key recommendations in four areas to improve access to specialist equipment and professional expertise:

Access and assessment

  • Specialist equipment services for disabled people should be widely and equitably available
  • Complex need and the integration of disparate technologies should be overseen by specialist equipment services

Delivery of services

  • Evolving equipment services should build upon established provision so as to harness and best deploy experienced specialist personnel
  • Specialist services require substantial investment in expertise and infrastructure and should serve catchments in excess of one million people

Clinical Governance and Competence

  • Clinical governance offers a framework within which specialist professionals should facilitate and oversee a co-ordinated provision
  • Supernumerary training posts should be established to facilitate training, promote innovation and support professionals seeking to further their expertise

Allocation of resources

  • Budgetary provision for specialist equipment services should be sourced jointly from local authorities and Specialist Commissioners
  • Services should highlight any financial shortfall rather than tolerating inappropriate and delayed provision

The document marks the beginning of an eighteen-month consultation process with service users, user groups, professional bodies, service providers and commissioners to stimulate debate and promote best practice. At the end of the consultation period, the RCP and IPEM intend to host a symposium and produce a final set of recommendations.

Dr Rajiv Hanspal, Chairman of the Working Party, said:

"This subject is vital for people with disabilities but often overlooked in service. It is therefore essential that the document starts a healthy discussion at a national level to ensure a successful consensus conference and a final set of recommendations."

Dr Alan Turner-Smith, Honorary Secretary to the Working Party, said:

"Users of specialist equipment deserve the assurance that services understand both their personal desires and the possibilities provided by rapidly advancing technologies. This document explores the importance of specialist services as they address these complex issues and suggests how the services should be developed for the benefit of disabled people."

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