NHS ‘fails’ to provide appropriate communication for people who are deaf, blind and disabled
NHS services ‘fail to communicate properly’ with people who are blind, deaf or disabled, a patient watchdog has said.
Miscommunications range from deaf people being asked to make appointments over the phone to blind people having to fill out paper forms.
Healthwatch England said two-thirds of NHS trusts were not giving people with additional communication needs equal access to care.
He said the NHS must act to ensure no one is left out of access to healthcare, as he released new data showing a number of NHS bodies are failing to meet their obligation legal to provide accessible and understandable information to patients with disabilities and those who are deaf or blind.
Rose Ayling-Ellis, Strictly Come Dancing champion and EastEnders actress, has previously spoken about the difficulties in accessing health services.
She told the BBC in January: “If I go to the doctor and there’s no interpreter, that means I have to bring a family member with me.
“But I don’t want that, I want privacy.”
Healthwatch England set out to assess how NHS trusts provided patient communications after seeing a 141% increase in reports related to healthcare information in the first year of the pandemic compared to the same period before Covid-19 hit.
It also conducted a review of the experiences of 6,200 people between April 2019 and September 2021.
The information concluded that the changes to services that have taken place during the pandemic were particularly acute for people who are blind, deaf or have a learning disability.
Miscommunications reported to Healthwatch England include a blind person receiving paper forms to order a white cane and deaf people being asked to book GP appointments over the phone.
Some deaf people reported that staff tried to communicate with them by shouting.
A number of people reported that services were unable or unwilling to provide them with support, for example a GP refusing to use a sign language interpreter.
When arrangements were not made, people felt compelled to share personal health information with family members who had to accompany them to their appointments.
Healthwatch also warned that the implementation of the Accessible Information Standard, a legal requirement created by NHS England in 2016 to ensure health and social care providers share and meet the information and communication needs of those who use their services, was “unequal”.
It found that only 35% of NHS trusts fully complied with the standard.
Of 139 organizations that responded to freedom of information requests, just over half (53%) of trusts said they asked patients about their communication needs and what support they needed when the patient first engages with services.
A quarter (26%) of departments do not record a patient’s communication needs in their patient record or only do so occasionally.
And only 57% of trusts said staff regularly share a patient’s communication needs with other health and care services.
Healthwatch said some trusts admitted to low staff awareness of accessible communication, limited resources and a lack of IT systems that would allow them to record patient communication needs.
Sir Robert Francis QC, Chairman of Healthwatch England, said: “Our findings clearly show the failure to protect the rights of our most vulnerable patients to accessible information and communication support due to poor accountability. across all of our health services.
“Health and care services are legally required to follow the accessible information standard, but there is currently no effective mechanism to hold them accountable for how they put it into practice.
“People want clear and understandable information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health and care and to get the most out of services.
“This research shows that health and care services must act so that no one is excluded from access to health care because of their communication needs.”
Connor Scott-Gardner, who is blind, said some minor changes and training for NHS staff “would make all the difference” in helping him use the services.
The university student from Leeds, who needs healthcare information in electronic form as well as in Braille, said: ‘I feel forgotten, ignored and not taken seriously.
“All I’m asking for is consistency, accessible information training for staff – a few minor changes would make all the difference for people like me.
“I want to be able to take care of myself, and good accessibility gives me the choice and the freedom to do so. When it’s available, there’s nothing I can’t do.
Healthwatch England has released its findings as the NHS reviews the Accessible Information Standard and the UK Sign Language Bill reaches committee stage of the legislative process.
The proposed legislation would give legal protection to the language in the UK.
Healthwatch and a coalition of charities including SignHealth, RNIB and Mencap have set out a series of recommendations to hold NHS services accountable to ensure they provide accessible and understandable information to patients who are deaf, blind or disabled.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘All NHS services have a legal duty to provide clear and appropriate methods of communication to ensure patients, service users and carers understand everything they need. need regarding their treatment and care.
“NHS England is currently reviewing the information accessibility standard, including how to better ensure that people’s communication needs are met.”