A report published today by the national deafblind charity, Sense, highlights the health inequalities and barriers faced by deafblind people accessing healthcare in England. It comes ahead of the implementation of the Accessible Information Standard on July 31st, and stresses the urgent need for all health and social care providers to deliver a more accessible system for patients with sensory loss.
There are estimated to be over 358,000 people in the UK with a sight and hearing impairment. Described as deafblind, they have some of the greatest health needs in society, with 69 per cent reporting two or more additional long-term health conditions, and 70 per cent requiring ongoing support from a GP or healthcare professional. This underlines the need for all healthcare services to be accessible to people who are deafblind, but to date this need is unmet.
The report indicates that inaccessible information and lack of communication support are the key barriers currently preventing deafblind people from accessing healthcare:
- One in two (56 per cent) deafblind people have left a GP appointment having not understood what had been discussed. Many reported needing to rely on a friend or family member to answer their questions or provide support and the lack of independence that this brought.
- More than three quarters (85 per cent) of deafblind people don’t get information about their healthcare appointments or follow up correspondence in a format that they can access. Most reported that they needed to rely on someone else to read their letters for them so that they could know what was contained in them.
More than a third (35 per cent) of deafblind people are not confident in managing their own health, and it is clear that the current system has put further strain on a group who already feel stressed and anxious.
The introduction of the Accessible Information Standard on July 31st represents a significant step towards addressing barriers to healthcare and improving accessibility for people who are deafblind. It sets out what providers must do in order to identify, record and meet the information and communication needs of those who use their services.
Timed to coincide with its introduction, the Sense report sets out why its successful implementation is essential to improve the lives of deafblind people across the country.
Sarah White, Policy Manager at Sense said:
“No one should leave a doctor’s appointment without understanding what has been discussed or be left with a prescription they are unable to read, yet this is a regular occurrence for many of the deafblind people we support.
The Accessible Information Standard provides a once in a generation opportunity to address these issues, and change the culture and practice of the healthcare services deafblind people receive.
The changes outlined in the new Information Standard are often small and inexpensive adjustments, but can make a world of difference for a deafblind patient visiting their local GP or seeking social care support. However, in order to make it work, it’s crucial all health and social care providers get on board with the implementation and start taking steps towards creating a care system which works for everyone who needs it.
Sense will update the people we support on the level of service they should expect to receive moving forward, and we will continue our work with NHS England and health and social care providers to ensure a fully accessible healthcare system is delivered.”
The Accessible Information Standard must be carried out by all providers of NHS and publicly funded adult social care. This includes hospitals, GPs, social care services, pharmacies and others.
The full report can be downloaded at: https://www.sense.org.uk/healthreport
 2012 Chief Medical Officer’s report
 2016 GP Patient Survey
 2016 Sense report – consultation with deafblind panel
 2016 GP Patient Survey