communication needs sign

Nearly 100 NHS Trusts fail to support care access for Deaf and blind patients

A Freedom of Information requested submitted to the NHS by Healthwatch England has revealed that out of the 139 NHS trusts that responded, only a third comply with the Accessible Information Standards (AIS).

The Accessible Information Standard was introduced by NHS England in 2016 and holds health and social care providers accountable for ensuring that they identify, record, flag, share and meet the information and communication needs of those who use their services.

Over half of the trusts ( 53 percent) said they ask patients upon first contact about their communication needs with a quarter not recording these needs on their patients’ files.

The FOI found that many trusts felt their lack of staff awareness and lack of IT systems prevented them from having the appropriate communication arrangements in place.

Sir Robert Francis QC, Chair of Healthwatch England said: “Our findings show clear evidence of a failure to protect the rights of our most vulnerable patients to accessible information and communication support through poor accountability across our health services.

“Health and care services are legally required to follow the Accessible Information Standard, yet currently there is no effective mechanism for holding them to account on how they put it into practice.

“People want clear, understandable information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health and care and get the most out of services. For instance, without proper communication support during GP or hospital appointments patients and their families can suffer psychologically with long-term consequences for their health and welfare.

“This research shows that health and care services within the newly created 42 integrated care systems must act to ensure no one is excluded from access to healthcare because of their communication needs. NHS England needs to hold health and care services to account in the implementation of the Accessible Information Standard to protect these rights.”

A review, shared with Healthwatch has published 6,200 people’s experiences of health services between April 2019 and September 2021. Many of these experiences showed that people who are blind, Deaf or have a learning disability stopped getting the same access to information from the NHS during the pandemic.

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