'I had to crowdfund for my wheelchair so I could work as a doctor'

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent

image copyrightHannah Barham-Brown

Hannah Barham-Brown was studying at medical school when she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome two years ago.

The inherited condition leaves her joints weak and susceptible to dislocation.

It means she has to rely on a wheelchair a lot of the time. But when she was given the diagnosis she quickly realised the NHS was not going to be there for her.

She was offered a standard NHS-issue wheelchair - but at 20kg (3st 2lb) it would have been too heavy for her and potentially dangerous, given her condition.

She began to think her dreams of becoming a medic were over.

"I didn't even think I would get through medical school," she says.

A friend suggested she try to raise the money herself.

The NHS offered her £140 towards the costs, but modern lightweight wheelchairs can set you back thousands of pounds.

image copyrightHannah Barham-Brown

Ms Barham-Brown, 29, who is working across different hospitals in south London as part of her first year of being a junior doctor, took to crowdfunding and within 24 hours had raised enough to buy a fairly basic one for just over £2,000.

"Without it I wouldn't have been able to work as a doctor," she says.

"The standard one is just too heavy and has a wide turning circle.

"It just would not have been possible to get around the wards.

"Now, I'm the quickest doctor in the hospital - they're always sending me to get the bloods."

The wheelchair also allows her to play sport - she races and plays wheelchair basketball.

"It is so short-sighted not to fund wheelchairs that people need," she says.

"It keeps them active and working. Without them people become isolated, but unfortunately the cuts in the health service mean that is not possible."

Ms Barham-Brown is not the only person to have faced such difficulties.

She says she is increasingly hearing of people resorting to such tactics to get the equipment they need.

"More and more I'm seeing pleas on social media from people begging for support to buy wheelchairs, not only chairs like this - lightweight self-propelling chairs - but electric chairs," she says.

"The guidelines for getting chairs now are so strict, wheelchair services across the country are being privatised and it's just getting harder and harder to get access."

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