The UK’s largest event for homecare, disability and rehabilitation took place over three days (29 April–1 May) at the NEC, Birmingham. The increasing size of the event and the rising number of visitors reflect the growing importance of assistive technologies in UK healthcare. Over 330 companies exhibited innovative products and services to aid the wellbeing, mobility, independence and social integration of disabled people.
Now’s the time
The event kicked off with the Naidex & BHTA Dealer Conference, a vigorous discussion on the theme ‘Transforming Community Equipment Services – Reality or Not?’ The Government’s TCES programme was subjected to tough critical assessment by members of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA), while DH spokesman Rob Knox tried to dodge the more difficult questions. Look out for an On Target
interview on this theme with BHTA Director General Ray Hodgkinson in the near future.
The main issue in the discussion was the transfer of assistive technology from provision by NHS organisations to retail provision subject to NHS prescription and regulation. This reflects the widening of the UK healthcare model from primary and secondary care to healthcare at home and in the community, with public and private sector health providers working in partnership, or in the same framework, or at least in the same world.
Whatever uncertainties there may be about the NHS as health provider and commissioner, one thing was abundantly clear at Naidex 2008: the demand for assistive technologies is both increasing and diversifying. The drivers include the ageing population, the looming obesity crisis, rising public expectation of choice and quality, and the power of new technologies to transform our lives. As Ray Hodgkinson said, “Now is the time to change.”
On the move
The Naidex 2008 exhibition featured a huge variety of advanced assistive technologies – from carbon fibre walking sticks and motorised wheelchairs to computer- controlled stairlifts, communication aids, telecare solutions and inclusive designs for the homes of the future. The exhibitors were competing not only to provide the best products, but to offer the best solutions to care providers and the best customer service to consumers.
The Future Lifestyles Home feature, supported by EMAP, is a technology demonstrator designed by a team of occupational therapists (OTs) to showcase features of an ‘aspirational’ home suitable for disabled people. The products featured in the house – including adjustable height table, environmental control unit, drinking aids, riser-recliner, wheelchair scales, voice recognition software, nonslip flooring, bath lift, tracking hoist system and flood alert system – were on loan from 23 different Naidex exhibitors.
An increasingly prominent aspect of Naidex is the KideQuip Zone, featuring a wide range of equipment and services for disabled children. The national mobility charity Whizz-Kidz held a series of wheelchair skills training sessions that generated considerable excitement among the participants and spectators!
The number of disabled children investigating the KideQuip Zone reflected a major aspect of Naidex as a whole: the companies were displaying their products and services not only to OTs and other health professionals, but also to potential users among the general public.
Opening the doors
The Government’s changing strategy for the provision of assistive technologies is only one aspect of the wider shift of healthcare provision from specialised care facilities to the community. K. Hancock, an assistive technology consultant and regular Naidex visitor, summed up the event’s importance:
“Naidex has opened up to the public and brought the products out, so they can see what the professionals are talking about. It provides a one-stop shop for people to view and have input on what equipment they receive from health professionals.”