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Local NHS trusts not consistently meeting legal rights of deaf and blind patients to accessible information

23/02/2022

  • Local NHS trusts are only partially meeting their legal duty to help people with additional communication needs, new FOI findings show
  • Healthwatch Brent has uncovered mixed performance from local trusts
  • Healthwatch England is warning no-one holds services to account for failing to follow the Accessible Information Standard and has joined leading disability charities in calling for concerted action.

Brent residents who are blind, deaf or have a learning disability are not being given as much support as they should by local health services because of their communication needs, new research shows.

The standard requires that all publicly-funded health and social care providers identify, record, flag, share and meet the information and communication needs of those who use their services, to ensure equal access to healthcare.

However, evidence from Healthwatch shows that the statutory duty is being significantly compromised across England and that its implementation in Brent has been mixed.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust shared its progress towards complying with the standard. The trust said that:

  • Most services ask patients whether they have any information or communication support needs, and find out how to meet those needs,
  • Most services routinely highlight in a patient’s notes that they have information or communication needs, and;
  • Current systems do not routinely share this information with other providers of NHS and adult social care (when patients have given consent/permission), however there is a review planned.

The trust noted that for those services not currently meeting the standards, the aim is to become fully compliant within the next 6-9 months.

Meanwhile, London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust declined to provide the information, stating that the trust does not centrally record the data being requested.

Healthwatch Brent will be working directly with the trust to get this information, and ensure that the rights of people with additional communication needs are being upheld.

Healthwatch England is warning that no one currently appears responsible for holding health and care services to account for breaching their legal duties under the standard. However, with NHS England currently reviewing the AIS, the patients’ champion has joined forces with leading disability organisations, including RNIB, RNID, Mencap and SignHealth, in calling for stronger accountability.

Healthwatch England and a coalition of charities, such as RNIB, RNID, Mencap and SignHealth have set out five headline recommendations ahead of the NHSE’s review of the Accessible Information Standard:

  • Health and care services to be held accountable for fully delivering the standard.
  • Every health and care service to have an accessibility champion. 
  • Better IT systems so that patients can update services with their communication needs.  
  • Involving people with communication needs in designing better services  
  • Mandatory training on accessible information for all health and care staff.  

Healthwatch Brent is joining forces with Healthwatch across England in running a Your Care, Your Way campaign calling for everyone to be given healthcare information in the way they need it. 

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