Working in a wheelchair

Jonathan Griffiths is a GP at Swanlow Practice in Winsford, Cheshire, and Chair of NHS Vale Royal CCG. He is a big fan of NHS Change Day and has made pledges and carried out actions for the last two Change Days. Over the next three days, Jonathan will be sharing his stories of change. Today he tell us about his 2013 pledge to spend a day in a wheelchair, and how it has affected his practice.

50 - Dr Jonathan GriffithsFor NHS Change Day 2013, I used the opportunity to promote International Wheelchair Day by spending a working day in a wheelchair.

What struck me about the day was how the little things which we all take for granted became so much more difficult. Things like getting through doors, closing toilet doors behind us, crossing a room with a cup of tea, driving a car and climbing stairs to name but just a few. There was one thing, however, which I really wasn't expecting; the social isolation. Being unable to share a room with my usual team, being unable to ask the Office Manager what time the meeting is, being unable to nip down the corridor to ask someone their advice. I was stuck downstairs in a building with no lift, and even if there had been a lift, I would have thought twice before making the trip.

I see patients who have mobility issues all the time. I visit them sometimes feeling slightly irritated that they have not made more of an effort to get to surgery to come and see me. I try and get through my visits quickly, feeling the clock ticking, with more work waiting for me back at surgery.

Now, I felt isolated while surrounded by the friendly staff from a different team for one morning. The patients I am talking about may spend their whole day at home with carers nipping in two or three times a day, being otherwise left alone, unable to go out, or even sometimes unable to get out of the chair, or out of bed without assistance. Intentionally reducing my mobility for a day has opened my eyes to how awful this can be.

So, what is my response to this?

Will it cause me to slow down on my home visits? I think so. Will I accept the offered cup of tea, knowing that it will extend my time with them? Maybe. Will it help me see patients as people rather than medical problems? I certainly hope so. Will I strive to go the extra mile for all my patients? Again, I hope so. I may provide the most significant social interaction of the day.

Spending a day in a wheelchair in the end has led me away from thinking about the practical difficulties (although there were many), and to thinking once again about the importance of always placing the person at the centre of what I am trying to do. Spending time in their shoes, or in this case on their wheels, has challenged my views.

On the day I tweeted that I thought all NHS staff should spend time in a wheelchair. I still believe that is true. I challenge you to consider this. You may learn something unexpected.

If you are planning to take up Dr Jonathan’s challenge to spend a day in a wheelchair, tell us about it at

These stories have been adapted from Dr Jonathan’s blog. You can read the full stories at
  • 100 Days of Change
  • Campaigns > Change Day 2015
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