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.
Residents who are blind, deaf or have a learning disability are not consistently being given all the support they should by Medway health services because of their communication needs, new research shows.
The failure puts services in breach of their duty under the Accessible Information Standard, a legal requirement created by NHS England in 2016.
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.
Here in Medway, Healthwatch Medway have consistently raised issues on behalf of the people who are D/deaf, blind, have a learning difficulty or for whom English isn’t their first language. In April 2020 we worked with the deaf community and heard:
- Hospital appointment being cancelled because interpreters not available or unable to stay for duration of the appointment
- Difficulties getting same day GP appointments as translators require advance booking
- A six month wait for interpreter at a dental surgery
- Difficulties communicating about appointments due to lack of email and text options
- Reliance on family members to act as interpreters in emergency situations
This situation has been made much harder for people during the pandemic when they are unable to meet GPs or health professionals face to face and so can’t use body language or hand gestures to help them.
We believe the situation with NHS Trusts in Medway has become worse in recent years. We will continue to work with Medway NHS Trusts to review AIS practice to help improve the support that they offer people.
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.