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NHS trusts are spending MILLIONS to replace crutches

NHS trusts are spending MILLIONS to replace crutches, walking sticks and wheelchairs that are never returned, investigation reveals

  • £14million has been spent on walking aids by NHS trusts since January 2014 
  • Of trusts with relevant data, 67,491 aids were returned by patients, data shows
  • While nearly four times that number – in the region of 242,000 – went missing 

Patients who fail to return crutches, walking sticks and wheelchairs are costing the NHS millions of pounds every year.

Official figures show more than £14million was spent on nearly 560,000 walking aids since January 2014 by 66 trusts in England.

Of those trusts with relevant data, 67,491 aids were returned by patients, while nearly four times that number (241,779) went missing.

Slightly more than 3,000 were returned in such a poor condition that they had to be scrapped, according to freedom of information requests.

Official figures show more than £14 million was spent on nearly 560,000 walking aids since January 2014 by 66 trusts in England

However, the true extent of the cost is expected to be much higher, as nearly half of all NHS trusts failed to provide data, and those who did often had incomplete figures.

Nearly four in every five – 78 per cent – of such loaned equipment was never given back, the data obtained by the Press Association also showed.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association charity, said: ‘Patients are often bewildered that the NHS does not ask for equipment back when they have finished using it, and sometimes even find that the NHS can make it bafflingly hard when they try to return it.

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‘This can raise questions in people’s minds about the efficiency of the NHS, and even undermine confidence in it – all completely needlessly.

‘We’d like to see an NHS where patients are able to return equipment that is no longer needed, and where equipment will be sensibly recycled and reused when it can be.


Hospitals were ordered to reuse crutches, wheelchairs and walking frames after The Mail on Sunday highlighted a ‘disposable’ culture costing taxpayers millions.

The paper’s investigation revealed mountains of mobility aids, many of which appeared to be in near-pristine condition, are thrown in skips across Britain.

In October, the NHS asked people to return their aids after Health Minister Stephen Barclay urged hospitals to do more to reuse them. 

A total of £3million of NHS England money goes on crutches, which cost £17 a pair, but only a fifth are ever returned to medical staff.

Mr Barclay said many patients were ‘hugely frustrated’ by not being able to return them, leading to extra cost and needless waste.

‘Schemes should be developed locally with the direct involvement of patients, both to ensure they work for patients who want to return equipment, and to avoid insensitivity, for instance when a person who was using equipment has died.’

Many patients claim they have been told by hospitals that they don’t want their crutches returned. A crackdown was launched in October by the Department of Health to tackle the problem of the ‘disposable’ culture among the health service. 

Different hospitals adopted polar opposite policies regarding returns.

While some requested patients brought walking aids back, others said the cost of cleaning and maintaining crutches meant there was no value in reusing them.

Many hospitals contacted by the Press Association said they did nothing to track down where equipment was.

This included Bedford Hospital, which spent nearly £25,000 in 12 months on crutches, yet does not keep a record on those returned.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital said it advised patients its sticks and crutches were single-use.

While London’s Royal Marsden Hospital said walking frames are not redeemed by the trust because the cost of retrieving them is greater than the cost of the equipment.

Southend Hospital said it had a ‘robust in-house cleaning and maintenance process’, and that patients generally ‘look after the equipment and do not abuse it’.

They said approximately 60 per cent of walking aids are returned – a rate which has remained stable for the last three years, despite attempts to encourage greater reuse.

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Far too often, medical equipment like wheelchairs and walking sticks are being used once before ending up on a landfill.

‘As we announced earlier this year, we want to put a stop to this unacceptably wasteful practice.

‘People rightly expect the NHS to make sensible use of their money and also become more environmentally friendly.

‘It’s great to see trusts across the country recycle equipment where it is safe and appropriate to do so.

‘Ahead of the long-term plan for the NHS, we urge more trusts to drive savings in this way to reinvest in frontline services.’ 

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