Northumbria Healthcare first in UK to use digital wheelchair-sharing

Two North East hospitals are expected to become the first in the UK to introduce an innovative solution to support patients, visitors and staff who need wheelchairs.

User-friendly digital wheelchair-sharing stations will be installed at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington and North Tyneside General Hospital.

This forms part of a new partnership between Northumbria Healthcare NHS FT and Wheelshare, which forms part of a 12-month trial.

The trial is believed to be a good showcase for the Wheelshare system and the issues it aims to address.

Damon Kent, Managing Director of Northumbria Healthcare Facilities Management - the Trust’s estates subsidiary - said: “We’re really pleased to be leading the way on this and becoming the first hospitals in the country to install this technology, as we look to ensure the best possible experience for patients and visitors to our sites.

“We recognise that the current system can be quite hit and miss, with wheelchairs not always in the right places at the right times, so we’re hopeful that this new system will work really well, ensuring that patients and visitors will always be able to find a chair ready to go when they arrive at our hospitals.”

Wheelshare already provides its platform to hospitals and medical centres but is now entering the UK market, and the first hospitals to benefit from its service will be Northumbria Healthcare’s two chosen sites, which care for a wide range of patients.

In the case of the Northumbria trial, the wheelchairs will be free to use for up to 12 hours.

The wheelchairs will be available free of charge to patients via a user-friendly automatic station, backed by a 24-7 helpline and at-site maintenance support.

Users will need to swipe a credit card to release a chair (no fees will be charged) and must ensure they return them correctly, so they are available for other users.

Up to now, the company has recorded more than one million rental hours by more than 150,000 unique users.

Chief Business Development Officer, Nir Tobis, said: “While this will not apply in all cases, we have found that traditional hospital provision of wheelchairs can result in poor patient experience, high maintenance demands, low availability, and issues for patients and visitors actually finding a wheelchair when they need it.

“Our innovative docking stations offer a user-friendly solution to all of this, and we pride ourselves on providing a service that really makes a difference to patients, visitors and staff, ensuring that they can easily access a chair so that their visit to the hospital is as smooth as possible.

“Plus, if there are any issues, there is a support line that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and a full maintenance service means that the system and chairs will not be out of action for prolonged periods.”

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NHE May/June 2024

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