NHS England accused of ‘dragging its feet’ on new accessibility procedures

nhs england accused of ‘dragging its feet’ on new accessibility procedures

In 2022, NHS England accepted a recommendation to revise the Accessible Information Standard, but its publication has been delayed. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

NHS England has been accused of “dragging its feet” on bringing in new accessibility procedures, leading to disabled people routinely struggling to access healthcare and facing cancelled appointments.

The Accessible Information Standard (AIS), originally implemented in 2016, was part of legislation designed to ensure that NHS and adult social care services providers make sure that people with a disability are able to have their accessibility requirements met when accessing health and social care.

In 2022, NHS England accepted a recommendation to revise the AIS, which had stronger wording than the original, meaning that providers of NHS care “must comply with the information standard”, whereas the earlier standard said providers only had to “have regard to an information standard”. The updated standard was meant to be published in 2023, but its publication has been delayed.

Charities and organisations have said that the delay has meant that many deaf patients have been left without the ability to make GP appointments and receive test results because health services often rely on phone calls.

Abigail Gorman, SignHealth policy and research manager, accused the NHS of dragging its feet in improving access, which was “failing deaf people and putting our lives at risk”.

She added: “For deaf people, poor access to healthcare is unfortunately one of the most common and sometimes life-threatening barriers we face. The updated AIS will go some way towards improving access for deaf patients, but it’s not enough and the process is taking too long.

“The NHS is not taking basic patient access seriously enough. We are calling on NHS England to publish the updated AIS and adequately resource the next steps necessary to carry it out.”

Ken*, who is in his 30s, from London, has an ethnic minority background and identifies as profoundly deaf with British Sign Language as his first language, said the lack of interpreters at his NHS appointments meant that he often had to have his mum translate, which led to further problems.

“No information was provided in an accessible format for me, so I relied on my mum,” he said. “Whatever the healthcare professional was explaining, my mum was relaying to me very little. I much prefer giving my own account and explanation of my symptoms and how it’s impacting me, but it was communicated through my mum. She doesn’t have proficient levels of BSL, she only got to level one, so there are lots of gaps in the information going both ways.”

He added that it was often not made clear to him whether an interpreter would be provided, and on some occasions they turned up to his appointment halfway through. “They’re not meeting my need for an interpreter and I can’t rely on written English because English isn’t my first language,” he said.

Victoria Boelman, the director of insight and policy at Royal National Institute of Deaf People (RNID), said: “The lack of access to healthcare that deaf people and people with hearing loss face is a hidden national scandal. It’s distressing that, on a daily basis, people miss life-changing diagnoses and treatment information, are forced to forfeit their rights to privacy surrounding their health, and face negative attitudes and behaviours from health staff.”

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 about their treatment and care.”

*This name has been changed.

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