Disabled people report being blocked from NHS care due to poor communications

Deep-dive analysis of people's experiences of healthcare communication is a stark reminder of why NHS England and the 42 new Integrated Care Systems need to ensure services abide by the Accessible Information Standard.
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Healthwatch England has published new findings which show services are failing in their legal duty to provide accessible information for people with physical and learning disabilities.  

As part of the Your Care, Your Way campaign, between March and May 2022, Healthwatch Cornwall supported the national Healthwatch England online survey completed by people affected by communications challenges. Whilst the survey participants were self-selected, their views are likely to reflect those of a significant group of people who need communications support. 

People being refused communication support 

The survey revealed that one in four respondents (28%) – including deaf, blind and with learning disabilities – said they had been refused help when requesting support to understand information about their healthcare. This included information being provided in formats such as Braille, British Sign Language and easy read.  

Not being given information in the right format affected people’s mental health and wellbeing (38%), meant they missed out on important information about their health (29%) or meant that they could not contact a service they needed (27%). 

Respondents also reported that the quality of communication from NHS and social care services had worsened over the last two years. Two-thirds (67%) felt that the way health and care services communicate with them had gotten worse or slightly worse over the course of the pandemic.  

Impact on people who have mental health conditions 

It is not just people with sensory impairments or learning disabilities who are affected by this issue.  

A fifth (22%) of those who reached out to Healthwatch to share their experiences identified themselves as having a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.  

Of these people,35% reported they rarely or never get the support they need to understand healthcare information or communicate with staff. The majority of them (70%) also said that the lack of information in a format they could understand further impacted their mental health and wellbeing. 

Why we need better Accessible Information Standard

The findings come as NHS England (NHSE) is conducting a review of the Accessible Information Standard (AIS). The Government created this legal requirement in 2016 to ensure all publicly funded health and social care providers meet the information and communication needs of people who are deaf, blind or have a learning disability. Publication of this review is expected later in the year, with updates to be implemented by April 2023. 

Earlier this year, Healthwatch England uncovered that many health and social care providers significantly failed their duty to ask about people’s communication needs and then act on this information.* 

Healthwatch England joined forces with leading disability organisations, including RNIB, RNID, Mencap and SignHealth, to inform the long-awaited review of the AIS. The coalition called on NHSE to take on board their recommendations, including stronger accountability across services to protect people’s rights to accessible information.  

Read the findings in full

Find out more about the results of our accessible information survey.

Find out more


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