Having joined the wheelchair services as a physiotherapist only a few months previously, and with many of the team there wishing to attend the PMG Conference, I knew my chances of obtaining funding through the service were limited. Encouraged by my manager, I joined PMG and successfully applied for a bursary to cover the cost of attendance.
At first I felt overwhelmed by the number of exhibitors and all the different plenary and parallel sessions. However, within a few hours, I was comfortably walking around the stands, engaging in discussions with the exhibitors and other delegates. Everyone was approachable and welcoming. Being a novice to the field of wheelchairs, it was extremely useful sharing experiences with colleagues from different services across the country, with the exhibition providing a great opportunity to explore new products and get ‘hands on’ with them. The entire event was a platform for making new links, with the social events providing additional opportunities to meet delegates and exhibitors in a more relaxed environment.
The opening plenary session by Ade Adepitan was awe-inspiring and has left a lasting impression on me. It was absolutely fascinating to hear about his journey and how sport changed his life; his ongoing work with Go Kids Go is truly inspirational. Other sessions and poster presentations enabled me to refresh my previous knowledge and gave me new ideas. I was particularly impressed by the Free Paper on Understanding propulsive shoulder forces and scapular kinematics during manual wheelchair use by Tom Paulson, which has prompted me to emphasise to all my patients the need for correct propelling technique. I am now able to provide a good and clear evidence-based explanation regarding the effects of poor propelling technique, and how it is closely related to shoulder pain. The presentation also stressed that we do not fully understand the interaction between wheelchair configuration, inefficient propelling and how it affects shoulder girdle structures. This is of great concern for manual wheelchair users who rely so heavily on their upper limbs for activities of daily living. It was very encouraging to hear about the new research and developments relating to such an important issue. [To read the full report of Tom Paulson's study, which was given financial support from the PMG research fund, go to Tom Paulson's final report, Ed.]
With personal health budgets (PHBs) now being introduced into the NHS across England, I was interested to learn what these may mean for wheelchair services. The presentation Personalising wheelchair services – your chance to influence the process by Stephen Pruner explained that the aim of a PHB was to give people with long term conditions greater choice and control over their care in a way that suits them. It outlined that the NHS England mandate for 2016/17 set the goal of delivering between 50,000 and 100,000 PHBs by 2020, up from the current 4,700. Although PHBs have apparently had a positive impact on some patients in other areas of healthcare, it’s unclear how it would work in the wheelchair services, and questions from the delegates regarding the potential pitfalls of the system were not clarified. For example, “Who would be responsible for the ongoing repairs and maintenance of the complex seating systems prescribed to patients?” and “Does a PHB completely replace the voucher system?” remained unanswered. PHBs are currently being piloted in a couple of wheelchair services so their effect is still unknown; we can only hope it proves to be a positive one.
Overall, by attending PMG Conference 2016 I have gained in confidence through consolidating my knowledge and improving my understanding of posture and seating; there was something to take back from every session. I cannot thank all the organisers and sponsors enough for such an excellent conference.
Photograph courtesy of Suzie Hunt