Able2UK Losers

Blind people are missing hospital appointments due to inaccessible information

a person reading braille

A leading charity has warned people with vision loss are being put “at risk” when they are provided with “inaccessible” information by the NHS about their health.

The RNIB states a number of people living with sight loss are missing important appointments, such as cancer screenings, or unable to use home test kits because they are unable to read the information/ instructions.

One patient said they found it more accessible to read their bank statement or gas bill compared to reading crucial instructions provided by the NHS.

Linda Hansen, from Bradford, has severe vision loss. The 62-year-old had to ask her daughter to read out her medical exam results because the information was provided in text format.

Ms Hansen told The Independent: “Last week I received the results of a smear test and the letter came in print format. I had to get my daughter to read it out to me, so she had to find out the result before even I could.

“I can get my bank statement or a gas bill in accessible formats, but yet I still receive health information that I can’t read. What could be more personal than your health status?”

On a separate occasion the NHS cancelled one of Hansen’s appointments, but she was only informed by letter.

Unable to figure out which appointment had been cancelled Hansen arrived at the hospital by taxi where she was told the consultation was no longer going ahead and asked, “did you not see the letter?”.

A new campaign, My Info My Way, launched by the RNIB, is asking for accessible information to be provided for everyone who is partially sighted or blind saying if a suitable format is not provided patients with vision loss are being put “at risk”.

Results of a new poll conducted by the charity show out of 477 blind people, six in ten [63 per cent] believe having accessible healthcare information would have a “hugely positive impact” on their quality of life.

The NHS has a legal obligation to provide information in a format patients can understand and offer appropriate communication support.

However, the RNIB say the execution of the Accessible Information Standard is “patchy” across England and the updated document, due to be published in the summer, should be “prioritised and fully implemented” for patients with vision loss.

David Aldwinckle, from the RNIB, said: “Making healthcare information accessible isn’t a luxury or an add-on, it’s every patient’s right.

“I don’t want other people with sight loss to experience what I did after I had an operation under anaesthetic.

“Following the procedure, I was given a bundle of leaflets about pain management, which as someone with sight loss I couldn’t read.

“Getting that information in an alternative format would have prevented me from waiting at home in increasing agony until my wife returned home and could tell me when I could next take pain relief.”

In 2022, a poll by Healthwatch England found one in four people with additional communication needs, including people with hearing loss and vision loss, had been “refused” communication support while accessing NHS care when they asked for accessible formats such as Braille, British Sign Language and Easy Read.

When asked about the new RNIB campaign,  Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: “While we anticipate the new standard will bring strengthened accountability for health and services to meet people’s communication needs, it’s vital services are supported to put it into practice, and that there’s a continued national focus on ensuring equitable access to healthcare for everyone.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “All NHS services have a legal duty to provide clear and appropriate methods of communication to ensure that patients, service users and carers can fully understand everything they need to know about their treatment and care.

“NHS England has worked with partners to review the Accessible Information Standard, including how to ensure that people’s communication needs are met, and we are committed to publishing the revised standard this summer.”

[ Braille was developed by Louis Braille in the 1820s when he was a pupil at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris ]

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