People with sensory loss and disabilities 'miss out on communication support from the NHS'

A new survey shows the NHS Accessible Information Standard isn't being put into practice.
Screen grab of signing woman from The Deaf Charity Signhealth You Tube video

More than 8 in 10 patients with disabilities or sensory impairments are not having their communication needs met during health appointments, according to a new report.

Despite the introduction of the NHS Accessible Information Standard (AIS) five years ago, people are who are deaf, visually impaired or disabled are still finding it difficult to:

  • make appointments
  • communicate with health professionals
  • find out test results
  • understand advice on hospital discharge
  • understand medication instructions.

The standard places a legal requirement on NHS services to support patients with certain communicate needs, by arranging, for example, British Sign Language interpreters or providing information in large print, Easy Read, or braille.

A coalition of charities, including our national body Healthwatch England, surveyed more than 900 patients or staff about the standard in late 2021.

Experience of the Accessible Information Standard

  • 81% of people had had an appointment where communication needs were unmet
  • 77% of eligible people rarely or never received information in alternative formats
  • 67% of Deaf people hadn't been given an accessible method of contacting their GP
  • 37% of professionals had never had training on the Accessible Information Standard
  • 59% of complaints procedures were not accessible, according to professionals
  • 1 in 3 heath & social care providers were unaware or unsure of the AIS

Findings of the survey were set out in a report published on 15 February 2022. It makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • A prominent ‘flag’ must be available on health records to alert staff when patients have communication needs and what action to take meet them
  • All NHS staff must be trained on the Standard and how to comply with it
  • Patients must be given alternative contact methods to phoning (like email or text)

The coalition of charities calling for change is made up of: Deaf Health Charity Signhealth, Healthwatch England, Learning Disability England, Royal Association for Deaf People, RNIB, RNI:D, Sense and Visionary.

The report is available in various formats.

Healthwatch England has also published separate findings of a Freedom of Information request, showing that only 53% of hospitals or other NHS trusts ask patients about communication needs on first contact and only one-quarter record these on records. Trusts said they didn't have the IT systems, resources or staff awareness to fully meet the standard.

Go to the Healthwatch England findings

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