The Ypush was invented some seven years ago by islander Brian Harrison, and it has been described by retired physician and Ypush medical director Roger Allsopp as the most exciting piece of medical equipment he has ever seen.
A self-taught engineer, Mr Harrison came up with the idea as a result of his long-term interest in motors.
He said he was looking at creating a motor-assisted walker, then moved on to mobility scooters, but then a realisation hit him. ‘I realised that there was not a single person pushing a wheelchair in Town,’ he said.
Further research led him to discover that, of the UK’s 1.5m. wheelchair users, half needed to be pushed by their carer and, he learned, the carers were struggling. ‘We found that about 70% of people pushing wheelchairs have back injuries.’
The Ypush is controlled by the carer, who is able to activate power assistance for forward, reverse and turning. It moves at a pre-set speed, which can be changed if desired.
One of the first investors in the project was pharmacist Steve Smith, who said that after they realised that nobody else had come up with the idea, they soon discovered why.
‘It was because it’s very, very complicated,’ he said.
The biggest problems were creating suitable motors and a braking system, said Mr Harrison.
After producing a prototype, the Ypush was shown at the Rehacare health industry show in Dusseldorf, Germany, last year, where Mr Harrison was approached by someone who was interested in manufacturing it.
As a result, the first Ypush chairs will roll off a production line at a factory in Taiwan in October, with distributors in six countries ready to take delivery.
The first people to use one of chairs were Guernsey couple Tony and Sue Mollet.
Mrs Mollet has multiple sclerosis and, after a chance conversation at a work dinner, Mr Mollet was told about the innovative chair and this led to them being given one to try about a year ago.
‘I can’t praise it enough, it’s changed our lives,’ said Mr Mollet.
The couple have put the chair through its paces around the island, from going up Le Val des Terres (‘We did it in something like nine minutes and 30 seconds,’ said Mrs Mollet) to walks among the trees at Le Guet, up Forest Lane in St Peter Port and down to the sea at Pembroke.
On the beach, Mr Mollet said the chair sank about two inches into the sand as he pushed it down to the water’s edge, but putting it into reverse it came out easily.
Before using the chair the couple did not get out together much, with Mr Mollet suffering back problems that were not helped by having to push a manual chair.
He said he used to dread going to Town, but now looks forward to the outing. However, he said that more could still be done to improve access to many shops for those in chairs.
Regular cruise ship traveller Andrea Martin said she would have liked to have had one on trips with her friend, whose husband was in a wheelchair and who often had to be left at the foot of hills in towns while the two women shopped.
The chair will be going on sale at the St John Ambulance Shop in October, where it will sell for £2,495.
But for now, those who would like to try it out can borrow it free of charge for up to a week, and Mr Harrison said that he was also happy to do home demonstrations. Anyone interested can contact the shop.
n To see videos of the Ypush in action, visit www.ypush.com