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
When I came round after surgery I couldn’t communicate as there was no interpreter
The interpreter couldn’t do the appointment date and time I had, so because of that the appointment wash changed. It's MY appointment, not the interpreter's, book another interpreter!!
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.
Every week we hear from people who are struggling to see their GP or go to a hospital appointment because support isn’t available to help them communicate. We will continue to champion the needs of people who need extra help, so do please get in touch and tell us your story. Together we can make a change.
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.
Our findings show clear evidence of a failure to protect the right of our most vulnerable patients to accessible information and communication support through poor accountability across our health services.
Health and services are legally required to follow the Accessible Information Standard, yet currently no one is effectively fulfilling their responsibility 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 with 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.