Local NHS trust is not consistently meeting the legal rights of deaf and blind patients to accessible information.

  • East Lancashire Hospitals NHS trust is not fully meeting their legal duty to help people with additional communication needs, new FOI findings show.
  • Healthwatch Blackburn with Darwen has uncovered mixed performance from local trust.
  • 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 being given all the support they should by local 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 and that its implementation in Pennine Lancashire has been inconsistent.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, East Lancashire NHS Trust admitted that it is not fully complying with the standard. The trust said that it;

  • does not always routinely share information about patients’ communication support needs with other providers of NHS and adult social care (when patients have given consent/permission)

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.

Sir Robert Francis QC, Chair of Healthwatch England said:

“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.”

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


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