A documentary, My amazing brain: Richard’s war, aired on BBC 2 recently, and followed the story of Richard Gray, a former Soldier and peacekeeper with the United Nations, from the early aftermath of a stroke where he is bedbound, cognitively impaired and unable to speak. Through rehabilitation at the NHNN, he learns to move, walk and talk again.
Richard’s emotional journey demonstrates the complex needs of those who are receiving treatment at the NHNN who have conditions effecting the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nervous system and muscles but also highlights an important lesson when it comes to rehabilitation: That physical therapy makes a difference and this is aided by highly specialised and dedicated rehabilitation equipment.
UCLH Charity provided a grant for specialised wheelchairs for seating two groups of patients at the NHNN. Those who have neuro-disorders and therefore highly complex needs, and those with no seating balance who require posture support. What makes the wheelchairs so special is that they are adaptable to suit the individual needs of the patient as a tilt function accommodates gravity into posture.
For those with neuro-disorders, the wheelchairs mean that patients can pursue posture management programmes in an upright position. The alternative to this is to mimic the posture lying down but as Susan Hourihan, Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist for neuro-sciences explains the wheelchairs are creating better outcomes. Susan comments, “The specialist chair reduces chances of pressure ulcers, improves respiratory function and posture minimising the chance of development of deformity.”
Patients who need a lower level of support also benefit from the wheelchairs as they offer a whole new level of independence. The specialist back system and headrest maintains an upright position meaning that patients are able to complete day-to-day tasks autonomously such as washing and eating. “More importantly patients can engage socially much more. For instance, they can spend time with families in the garden square outside the hospital”, Susan adds.
The wheelchairs not only improve the standard of care but also offer significant financial savings for UCLH. Previously the Trust was hiring similar equipment to seat patients but Susan says that these could not be adapted to the individual and were therefore unfit for purpose. Despite these shortcomings, the wheelchairs were costing the NHS 40K annually and this figure was expected to rise.
Susan says that patients and staff alike are already noticing the benefits of the equipment. “For a typical patient at the NHNN, a small change can make a huge difference. Equipment of this kind provides patients with the best opportunity to achieve their goals during the rehabilitation process.”