A few years ago, I was pitching to a Norwegian company who were interested in distributing Tomcats in Norway. In front of me were twenty sales reps and internal staff to whom I was describing the benefits of our invention of Carer Control™.
‘In a school situation’, says I, ‘when several children will need to use the same trike; the Carer Control system will be perfect for you, because the children with severe disabilities who are unable to steer, brake or be independently safe can be supervised by a carer using the carer control arm. Those who only need braking assistance or safety supervision can be supervised with the carer brake strap, whilst, of course, the fully independent kids can still ride independently. You have it all there in one solution!’ I looked around for understanding nods of approval and was met with a sea of blank faces!
The M.D. explained to my embarrassment, “Bob, here in Norway, if a child needs a trike he will always have his own – one in school and one at home! They will be replaced every two years under the health scheme!’ I looked about for the welcoming hole to jump into.
Later that evening, over dinner, the M.D. said to me, ‘Bob, you know I told you about the health scheme today and how each child gets two trikes?’
I assured him I’d not forgotten!
‘You know the trouble with our system? No-one values anything in Norway, because everything here is free! There is terrible waste and little development in new solutions because the reimbursement is set and cannot be exceeded except privately. That is why we don’t have your technology here in Norway.’ His words were food for thought indeed!
Here in the UK (unlike most of Europe) we don’t have anything resembling a reimbursement system, though to be fair, our VAT on essential disability equipment is zero whilst most European countries charge VAT at varying amounts. As a consequence the main funders of our Tomcat products are charities, (with help often thrown in by Gran and Grampy)!
Wouldn’t it be so easy to say that is all wrong, and everything should be provided by the state and paid for by the public purse? Perhaps it should, because no-one chooses disability for themselves, or those whom they love.
There is nothing at all fair about disability; it is indiscriminate, life changing and cruel and touches all our lives sooner or later; yet it does give something back to us that is very positive. It is that wonderful thing called humanity and the milk of human kindness.
When I was just six weeks old my mother was desperately ill and had to go back to hospital for a very long time. My father (a local postmaster) was at his wits end. On the day the ambulance came, a customer came into the shop and said, ‘Dennis, what are you going to do about the baby? ‘I just don’t know, Freda’, he replied.
‘Then you give him to me and I’ll look after him till Ellen comes home!’ They put everything I’d need into the Morris van and took me the ½ mile to 8 Westend.
On and off but mostly on, she looked after me for an incredible four years and at her death at 97, my father described “Mumfrede” as she will always be to me, as the best friend he ever had. To me, and throughout my entire childhood, she was everything. When my mother died two days before my twelfth birthday I was inconsolable and there was only one place on earth I wanted to be – 8 Westend.
My point is that the problems that life brings our way have positives, sometimes quite well concealed positives that can only be found by you, and the family, friends and strangers who care about you, but never through a state hand-out.
Over the twenty years I have run Tomcat, I have met some incredible people, and have become involved with some incredible charities that have changed lives and sometimes saved lives, but this system of ours is never easy for anyone involved. Not the kids themselves, not the family who worry about them, not the professionals who try to do their best for them, not the strangers who try to help them through funding and not us in the industry who try and solve the problems through our engineering. Yes, it would be easier and fairer with a state grant, but as a nation, and as human beings who need to look out for one another, I think we would be poorer for it.
Let me give you just one last example of something that has happened only this week. We recently provided a quote for a boy in Tewkesbury, who needed a Tomcat to help build up his strength. When Tewkesbury Round Table offered part of the necessary funding, Jon Poole, our office manager contacted a Tewkesbury engineering company who had previously offered to fund a Tomcat. They agreed to put the remainder.
When Jon called the child’s mother to tell her the good news, she broke down in tears on the phone. She was eventually able to tell Jon that her little boy was going into hospital to have extensive surgery that would leave him very weak and they needed the trike so much to help his recovery, but they could never afford to buy the trike themselves.
Through the unexpected kindness of strangers, worry and anxiety have changed for them into hope, and their lives have become just that little bit better for it.
They will never forget the kindness of the strangers who helped them, just as I will never forget my wonderful surrogate mum who gave me everything, and asked for nothing.
On the balance of things, I think we are better off as we are.