Children's 'shocking' wait for wheelchairs; Unacceptable delay means youngsters have outgrown them.
CHILDREN are waiting up to 18 months for a wheelchair in Wales, it has emerged.
And parents have complained that the long waiting times can mean that when wheelchairs are delivered, they are too small for their children.
The office of the Children's Commissioner for Wales has added its voice to the growing number of concerns about Wales' artificial limb and appliance centres (ALAC).
In written evidence to the National Assembly's health, wellbeing and local government committee, the Children's Commissioner Keith Towler said: "It is self evident that children who need wheelchairs should get them without delay. This is their right under article 23 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"With proper equipment, disabled children and young people can engage in a wide range of play, leisure and sport activities and these activities are as important to their development as they are to their peers who are not disabled.
"Yet we understand that their needs in this respect are not routinely assessed."
The commission's evidence refers to an email it received from a mother in Powys, speaking on behalf of other families with children who rely on a wheelchair.
She said that desperately-needed wheelchairs often cannot be used because when they finally arrive they need to be adjusted, which can take months.
The e-mail also spoke of a two-year wait for an assessment after a child is referred to the ALAC service.
And she said that specialist wheelchair bases, which are essential for children with muscular dystrophy and spinal atrophy, are not available through ALAC services and usually have to be funded privately.
Mr Towler said in his annual review: "We are becoming increasingly concerned about the provision of wheelchairs for children and young people.
"We have received many complaints about the unacceptably long waiting times, both for their provision, adjustment and repair.
"Some parents have reported that by the time their child has received their wheelchair they have already grown out of it. This is completely unacceptable."
He added that he had been considering conducting a formal review of services but that this has been delayed because the Welsh Assembly Government commissioned its own review in May 2008.
The review's findings have not been published.
His evidence also reveals that the average time between a request and an assessment at Wrexham ALAC is 140 days and 161 at Cardiff ALAC.
Both centres state that the average time between assessment and delivery of a wheelchair is 90 days.
But the evidence said one parent waited 18 months for a wheelchair for her child and Health Minister Edwina Hart said in July that average waiting times for assessment of more complex needs are five months in South Wales and 15 months in the North.
Andrew RT Davies, the Conservatives' shadow health minister, said: "The evidence given to the health committee by the Children's Commissioner is shocking.
"It was confirmed to us that he believes that there is a rationing of services for child wheelchair users.
"It is incredibly distressing to think that young people across Wales who need a wheelchair are being denied access to what can only be described as a vital service."
The health committee's inquiry into wheelchair services was prompted by criticism about waiting times for assessment and provision.
A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: "Health Minister Edwina Hart, ordered a review of wheelchair provision in Wales and will be updating AMs this week."
LONG WAIT: Children are outgrowing their wheelchairs - even before they receive them