Charities disappointed by equipment proposals

The Department of Health is urging charities to open shops selling community equipment such as wheelchairs and hearing aids.

But the department's plan to overhaul the way such equipment is provided falls short of sector expectations.

Charities had hoped the Government would hand over large-scale NHS contracts to organisations such as the RNID, the charity for deaf people, and the British Red Cross.

But under proposals published by the department last week, people would be issued with free 'prescriptions' for equipment. They would take these to independent retailers from the voluntary or private sectors, which would exchange them for equipment and claim the cost back from the NHS.

Lucia Fireash, national programme officer for the DoH's Transforming Community Equipment Services project, said retailers could not necessarily count on the Government funding them to perform this role.

Instead, she said, retailers could earn money through prescriptions or through individuals choosing to buy items themselves. "I don't think either of those things compromises any of the sector's principles," she said.

Several charities, such as the RNID and Assist UK, the umbrella organisation for disabled living centres, said the new model offered greater choice to users but could result in charities subsidising services previously paid for by the state.

Brian Lamb, director of communications at the RNID, said: "There's absolutely no way we're going to use charitable funds to run what should be state-provided services."

Alan Norton, director of Assist UK, said: "Any moves towards this model will have to be self-financing."

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