In November 2009 NHS Wheelchair Services provided Adam with a manual wheelchair. It is an Invacare Action 3 Junior and we had concerns about it early on. Adam often banged his head on the handles, the anti-tip bars at the rear of the chair stick out so far that you cannot push it without banging your feet and, more importantly, that it lacks stability. It would tip forward very easily and we were wary of allowing Adam to use it outside. We requested another assessment.
On January 27th 2010 Adam and his mother attended a re-assessment appointment where all the concerns were raised. Surprisingly, it was accepted that there are “stability issues” with the smaller versions of this chair. They are only able to choose from two wheelchairs for children. They admitted that the other chair is less suitable for Adam but ordered one for him anyway. If this is not suitable when we try it they can then go to more senior people and put forward a case for further funding for a more suitable chair.
Adam has another manual chair, kindly funded by St Austell Brewery Charitable Trust so that Adam could have a manual chair in time to start nursery in September 2009. It is a Cheetah from R82, which is a fabulous, very stable chair and he has been using this to go to nursery and play outside. The Action 3 has been kept for indoor use.
Unfortunately, the Cheetah had to be sent away for repair as one of the brakes had broken meaning that Adam has had to use the NHS chair for daily use instead.
On Wednesday 10th February the Action 3 Junior tipped forwards and toppled over as Adam was coming into the home. He landed face down with the wheelchair on top of him. We have never heard him cry so much.
Amazingly, Adam sustained only a grazed chin but was visibly upset just by the sight of the chair some time afterwards.
The accident was reported but at the time of writing, Wheelchair Services have not been in contact. This is despite them knowing that Adam is now without a manual chair as we have made it clear that we will NEVER put him in this dangerous chair again. Through Special Kids in the UK we have found that this is not the first time this sort of accident has occurred.
The maker of the chair, Invacare, responded swiftly with an apology and a request for photographs of the chair and its serial number. They wish to investigate whether the chair has been properly set up. They stated that they “have not previously been made aware of any problems with the stability of this model.” Yet we know of several parents who have complained to Wheelchair Services about it. Several of those parents are now interested in contacting Invacare so that their concerns might be properly addressed.
We are horrified and angry at so many things. Why was our son ever supplied with a chair with known “stability issues”? Why have accidents not been reported back to Invacare? Why do Wheelchair Services have only two chairs that they can provide for children? The needs of disabled children vary so much. Wheelchair assessment is a farce if they are not able to assess needs and find the right chair for each individual child.
This sort of treatment is why families fundraise to ensure that their children are provided with suitable, safe equipment at the time of need.
UPDATE - 5th JUNE 2010:
Following our protests, Adam was assessed by a team at the Cornwall Mobility Centre, who immediately said that, without outrigging, this version of the Action 3 was not a suitable chair for an active young child. They therefore agreed to fund another Cheetah from R82, which has now been delivered and is in use.
While we are pleased at this outcome, the fact remains that if it were not for all the generous donations to Adam's Fund, Adam would have been left with no chair at all since 10th February 2010.
UPDATE - 14th NOVEMBER 2010:
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) investigated our report of this incident. They concluded there was no indication that the Action 3 was inherently unsafe and queried whether the chair had been correctly modified for Adam by the NHS Wheelchair Services.
The MHRA report states that they are not aware of any other such instances of instability of the Action 3. However we have been advised by several other users that they have experienced similar problems. We would therefore urge anyone who has experienced problems with an Action 3 (or any other type/model of wheelchair) to report the incident to the MHRA via their website, www.mhra.gov.uk.