Sunday, July 26, 2015


As most people who know me are aware, I currently have Alber E-Motion M15 power assisted wheels and I have loved them for every minute of the five years I've had them.

I was incredibly fortunate to get help from Access To Work in being assessed for and part-funding them, and even more fortunate that being self-employed and working from home I was permitted to use them as much as I needed to. They're not categorised as being for my personal/social/leisure use as the assessment was done purely with my work needs in mind, but at the same time, no one expected me to remain housebound/struggle to walk/submit to being pushed/use a badly-fitting generic non-powered wheelchair/etc when I have a properly-assessed-for power-assisted fitted wheelchair that is ideal for my needs sitting right there in my house.

Predictably enough, with pregnancy my wheelchair needs are changing. My wheelchair as fitted five years ago is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to sit in, and my stomach muscles are no longer strong enough to allow me a proper push, especially going uphill, and the increasing size of the bump means I can't lean forwards at all. Even on ideal terrain, such as the absolutely flat smooth surfaces in my local supermarket, I still have to stop and lean back when the baby decides to have an energetic wiggle.

I'm only going to get bigger for the next three months, and my stomach muscles are going to keep loosening and stretching, and then once the baby is born I want to wear a sling rather than trying to negotiate fixing a pram to a wheelchair (or worse, having a PA pushing my baby in a pram alongside parents with their babies in prams while I am baby-less, self-propelling and trying to pretend that I'm the one of us who belongs in the group of parents walking around the park with their babies), not to mention that it's going to become even more important to conserve my energy so that I can meet the baby's needs... I'm going to need a fully-powered wheelchair.

We knew this would be the case before we started trying to conceive, and as such we saved up to be able to purchase a fully powered wheelchair when the time came. My needs aren't especially high, my body is not particularly fragile or unusually proportioned, and of course I won't be sitting in the chair all day every day. But, with the baby in the mix, we don't want to buy something random and second-hand - we were always clear that we'd want it from a reputable source, covered by warranty, and with servicing available locally. The price range we were expecting was between £2,000 and £6,000.

One problem is that the unexpected £5,000 we already have to pay for the stairlift, plus a rent rise and a couple of other unexpected factors that aren't disability or baby related, has left us with rather a different financial picture than we'd imagined.

A bigger problem, though, is that I can't get an assessment - and am loath to just trundle into a random mobility supplies shop and ask a salesperson to assess me, in case what they decide I "need" turns out suspiciously close to what they will make the most commission on or are desperately trying to shift out of their stockroom.

The NHS Wheelchair Services position is that powered wheelchairs are only prescribed for people who need a wheelchair to move around their own home. This is obviously not the case for me. They also can't prescribe a self-propel wheelchair to someone who can't self-propel, and attendant wheelchairs are somewhat dependent on *having* an attendant.

This issue couldn't be tackled ahead of pregnancy because resources are quite in-demand enough for situations which already exist, without being done pre-emptively for situations which only "might" occur such as conception of a baby. But my GP and midwife have, since week 10 of this pregnancy, tried every route they can think of, up to and including obtaining the Wheelchair Services referral form and then writing all over it that while we know WS won't fund or prescribe a powered chair for me, maybe they could just *see* me and *advise* on what sort of chair I should be privately purchasing... nothing. The most useful response we've had is "well, whoever assessed for her last chair can assess her again," except of course that was Access To Work and even if they hadn't been hideously defunded in the last five years, my non-work needs for late pregnancy and early parenthood are not their remit.

The Social Services OT also tried, but again, all roads lead back to NHS Wheelchair Services, who refuse to so much as see me.

Following a Twitter conversation with a friend, Scope tweeted to me that I could try the Mobility Trust. I've written to them, but have not yet heard back and I believe from the information on their website that they are more about helping people who already *have* assessments out of the funding hole, rather than helping people get assessed in the first place. Steve and I know that despite our current financial upheaval and zero assets, we're still relatively privileged in that we have an above-benefits-level income and zero debt, and as such probably don't come under the charity umbrella.

The best result I've been able to obtain is that one morning, after an hour or so chain-phoning this or that organisation, explaining the predicament, and being told "not our remit, you might want to try (person) at (organisation), their number is..." I actually got to *speak* to someone at the local Wheelchair Services. They still refused to help with an assessment, but they did give me the name of the supplier they usually use, and told me that they regarded that supplier as being a trustworthy and established local business who would assess my needs without a rampantly profiteering head on. It didn't quite work out that way. I made an appointment to go in and discuss my needs and was proudly handed a couple of PDF printouts from manufacturer's web pages, for incredibly expensive made-to-fit support-everything bespoke powerchairs. The salesman seemed to lose a bit of interest when I said that neither my needs nor my budget were quite that high, although he did offer to get one or two powerchairs in and then call me so that I could test them. This is not the same as discussing my needs and preferences and figuring out which of the chairs on the market might best suit me and then getting *that* powerchair in for me to try. It's fine as a fall-back option, but this is an investment of thousands of pounds of our own money, we'd really quite like a few more options and a little bit of guidance!

Part 1 Part 2


I've been supposed to have a stairlift for quite some time now. But what with the insecurity of living in a rented house, and sharing that house with a non-disabled person who likes to run up and down the stairs unimpeded, we never went ahead with it. I carried on going up stairs on all fours, coming down stairs on my bum, and sitting halfway up/down the stairs having a little rest when necessary. It was okay. I'm under 35 and not exactly frail, I've got solid young bones and plenty of padding on them. When I fall down the stairs, so far nothing worse has happened than some cuts, bruises, grazes and/or carpet burn, maybe a bit of damaged clothing, and whatever I was carrying taking a brief flying lesson.

As you can imagine, being pregnant - having a baby on the inside for now and knowing that once the baby is on the outside I still need to get both of us up and down the stairs safely - changes the goalposts somewhat. All of a sudden I'm a lot less flippant about falls. On top of which, as my bump gets bigger, it becomes physically more awkward (and eventually will be full-on impossible) for me to go up on hands and knees or rest halfway if I need to. Steve and I agreed that pregnancy would make us concede to the stairlift.

(At this point well-meaning people tend to sagely advise us that we should move house to a bungalow. Leaving aside the implied insult that we are too stupid to have thought of such a thing, the trouble with bungalows becomes apparent when you try to actually *get* one. Social housing bungalows are too small, privately rented bungalows are too expensive, purchasing a bungalow is out of our reach, and all types of bungalow are very rare. We do search occasionally, but in every category those few that come up and look like they might meet our needs tend to, on further investigation, be on special zones or estates that exclude us with rules stating they are only available to over-55s or that children are not permitted.)

The delays and difficulties with Social Services meant that I was 21 weeks pregnant before the Housing OT Gatekeeper phoned me - and promptly advised that a stairlift would take at least six months to sort out, which isn't a useful answer to someone who needs to be baby-ready in four months. Happily I was able to persuade her to refer it upwards, with the result that she phoned me the next morning and I got an appointment to see the OT at 23 weeks.

The OT was lovely, as OTs tend to be. Along with various other things, including a referral to a specialist OT service for disabled parents elsewhere in the country, she agreed that a stairlift was required ASAP, and since it was therefore a prescribed item rather than a personal choice, gave us a financial assessment form.

Financial assessments are conducted differently by different departments. They all have different criteria. For example, at present, I'm not eligible for welfare because as a household we have earned income - but I don't have to pay for my basic care package because that is calculated on savings, investments, assets, property, trust funds, etc, with our earned income from our current work being disregarded. For a Disabled Facilities Grant, which is what would normally pay for a stairlift... everyone had assumed that we'd be eligible, but it turns out we're not eligible due to Steve's earnings.

Which means we (meaning he) will have to fund the stairlift privately.

Which will be about £5,000.

There's no choice though. We don't have a downstairs loo and there's nowhere we could put a commode downstairs, therefore if we want me to be able to use the loo with hygiene and privacy, which in the UK is considered a pretty fundamental necessity for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman or new mother, we need a stairlift.

At 26 weeks the OT came back with a couple of engineers in tow to measure things and pull faces, and the proper final itemised quote should be with us by 28 weeks.

They tell me there's then a 6-8 week wait after I get the quote, confirm the order and stump up the deposit before work can start. The particular parts for my particular measurements and prescription need to be shipped in and then of course the relevant engineers must be booked. That will bring us to 36 weeks or as near full-term as makes no difference, or to put it another way, I might end up using a bucket in the lounge after all, or trying to find the money to allow me to spend what should be the "nesting" period in an accessible hotel room. I guess the best case scenario is that if I go into early labour, they might not be able to release me and baby from hospital until the house is habitable.

That the delays and heel-dragging of social services in the first half of my pregnancy has resulted in my basic predictable needs for the final stages being cut this fine makes me even more upset than the money aspect.

Part 1 Part 3

Not 24 weeks

I don't know if anyone was watching closely enough to notice, but there has been no 24 week update, and there is also no 24 week picture, and now I am just over 27 weeks pregnant.

This is largely because there's been just too much other stuff to deal with. All three of us are healthy (usual parameters), no emergencies, just... Stuff.

The first bit of the Stuff is Social Services.

This was very much a planned baby, and part of the planning was getting input from Social Services before trying to conceive. I'm pleased to say that we got a good, positive response. We were reassured that we had an absolute right to a family life, and that Social Services would support us to meet not just basic survival needs, but also to fulfil my role as a parent. The child is not automatically considered "at risk" and if I struggled to meet the child's needs then before Child Social Services would even consider getting involved, Adult Social Services would need to have done everything possible to enable me to look after the child myself. Specifically I was told that instead of my case remaining effectively "closed" (as it is while a person is stable and their needs are being met by their existing care package), once I informed them of a pregnancy I would be on the active caseload of a named Social Worker, they would review me every three months during pregnancy and the first year of the baby's life, or more frequently if necessary, and as such my care package could be altered according to the rapidly changing circumstances.

That filled us with confidence and we went ahead. Spool forward to Spring 2015. Eight weeks pregnant, I met "my" social worker, and we got on well. She was every bit as positive. We decided that she would line up all the various referrals to Occupational Therapy and Independent Living and so on, but given my history we would wait until my 12-week scan before forging ahead, to save on upsetting encounters if anything went wrong.

So, after my 12-week (actually 13 and a bit) scan, I phoned her office... was told she was off sick but would be in touch when she got back the next week. Nothing happened. Phoned again at 17 weeks... was told she was off sick but would be back the next week. Nothing happened. Phoned again at 19 weeks... was told she was off sick and they didn't know when she would be back. I pointed out that the baby was not going to wait indefinitely until "my" social worker was back and asked if I could be transferred to someone else's caseload. The answer was no, but that a Duty Social Worker would call me back.

(Duty Social Workers are to named social workers as duty GPs are to named GPs. They're fully qualified, and authorised to open and read confidential client files and take necessary action. But they're supposed to deal with that day's emergencies and situations requiring an immediate response, not ongoing or future care requiring familiarity with the case or time for research about a specialist situation - and they prioritise their time, so if you *can* wait until tomorrow, the chances are you will.)

Nothing happened. At 21 weeks, I phoned again and explained that pregnancy is only supposed to last 40 weeks, so the baby was more than half-way here, I was having increasing difficulty doing things and that while I appreciated I wasn't an absolute emergency, I really quite urgently needed to hear from a social worker if we were going to avoid me AND the baby becoming one.

Finally, two days after that, a Duty Social Worker called me. He'd opened my file; he'd seen that "my" social worker had been intending to start off a number of referrals as soon as I'd had my 12-week scan but that she'd gone off sick before this could happen; he agreed to authorise and send off those referrals, marked as Urgent in an effort to catch up to where we should be. However, "my" social worker was expected back within a couple of weeks, so they couldn't transfer me to anyone else's caseload or conduct a reassessment.

I was really pleased that things were moving at last, but of course that was when the challenges really started. Because I had no social worker to oversee things or fight my corner, I had to try and comprehend the whole system myself. First getting past gatekeepers, then being referred on to yet more people or organisations, and trying to keep track and make sense of who everyone is, when I see them, what their remits are... I'll go into more detail in another post.

At 22 weeks, someone from Independent Living saw me and agreed to formally refer me to be reassessed by a social worker. At 23 weeks, she phoned me back and told me that the referral had been postponed because they wouldn't transfer me to another caseload, because "my" social worker was off sick but would be back in two weeks. Does this sound familiar? Can you guess what happened? That's right, two weeks later (25 weeks) I was told that "my" social worker was still off sick! But, obviously, they couldn't transfer me to someone else's caseload, because she would likely be back in two weeks!

*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

Thankfully by this point my list of "two weeks" was long enough that it was conceded I could be reassessed the following week by a Duty Social Worker for my third trimester needs. Her findings would be submitted to a panel who would decide what help I would get.

I honestly felt sorry for that Duty Social Worker. I think like many social workers she went into the profession wanting to make things better for people, but... she was visibly stressed and very disillusioned. I had prepared notes ahead of the meeting with an outline of the sort of bare-minimum support I felt I would need. The moment that has stayed with me is the moment when she sighed and said "I don't think you'll get this. Do you really want me to ask?"

Outwardly I replied that yes, I wanted her to ask, because if she didn't ask, then I definitely wouldn't get it!

Inwardly I curled up in a terrified ball. At 26 weeks, the baby was already wiggling so much that the movements could be felt from the outside, and if anything went wrong, there would be a chance of both of us surviving it. There is no turning back. I'd only started on this journey after getting reassurance that it would be okay - I thought I had been as responsible as possible in ensuring that if I ever did have a child I would be able to provide a decent level of parenting. And now here was a social worker who, in contrast to the positivity of those I saw pre-conception and at 8 weeks, was so doubtful about the likelihood of me getting support that she didn't even want to ask the panel for it.

She also let us know that it would be at least a week before she got the chance to type up the reassessment. In an effort to do something positive, I offered to send her my notes to save her some typing time. Then, before sending them, I spent a couple of days going through them, being rather more specific about the help I need, why I need it, what the risk factors are if I do not have that help, how I am currently struggling/failing to meet this or that criteria because of lack of help. But it is not a positive experience to spend days thinking intensively about the things you will struggle or outright fail to do for your child due to lack of resources that you reasonably believed you would have.

The only other positive I can draw from that meeting is that the Duty Social Worker didn't seem to disagree that I would need the help I said I would. She just feels that with austerity, social workers' requests get turned down more than they might have done a couple of years ago, and she doesn't like it when the panel say "no" to her.

At this stage, there's not much I can do about Social Services other than hope that the Duty Social Worker manages to persuade herself to present my case, and that the panel respond favourably to the information. It will be at least another couple of weeks of hoping before I hear back.

Meanwhile, there's still more than enough to keep me occupied with stairlifts and wheelchairs...