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What we want to see from the next government: Equal access to healthcare 

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An illustration of a doctor. She holds a clipboard and a hearing health instrument.

Our Loud and Clear manifesto sets out what we want to see from an incoming government. In this series we explain the issues we are campaigning on.  

In this blog our Health Policy Advisor, Ruth MacLeod, sets out what RNID wants the next Government to prioritise: equal access to health and care services through strengthening of the Accessible Information Standard – the guidance on what providers must do to make services accessible.

Watch our Loud and Clear charity manifesto summary in BSL

Prioritising equal access to services 

For too long, deaf people and those with hearing loss have been failed by health and social care services that don’t meet their communication needs. Equal access to healthcare is a human right. Yet, right now, services are too often failing to meet the basic communication needs of those who are deaf or having hearing loss. This must change.   

Some GP surgeries only allow patients to book an appointment by telephone. This isn’t accessible for people who are deaf or have hearing loss. Patients who do manage to book an appointment may still miss it, if they don’t hear their name being called in the waiting room.  

Many who ask for a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter don’t receive one. Others may feel isolated during hospital stays if they can’t communicate with healthcare staff, and this lack of communication can risk their health if potentially life-threatening conditions are missed, or the right treatment isn’t offered. 

Improvements to The Accessible Information Standard  

In 2016, NHS England introduced the Accessible Information Standard – a document that sets out clear guidance on what must be done to make NHS and social care services accessible to people with disability and sensory loss. This guidance was intended to ensure people could fully understand information they are given and fully participate in discussions about their treatment and care. 

But, years on, research shows this is still not happening. Too many health and social care providers are not complying with the Standard. A report from 2021 found that: 

  • 1 in 3 health and social care providers were unaware or unsure of the existence of the Accessible Information Standard. 
  • Two thirds of deaf people reported that no accessible method of contacting their GP has been made available to them. 
  • 4 in 5 of patients with communication needs reported having an appointment when their needs were unmet. 

This isn’t good enough. We want the next Government to address this issue. We need them to enact legislation to make it compulsory for NHS and social care services to comply with the Accessible Information Standard – and for these services to publish documents showing that they are doing so. This would ensure that these services take steps to meet people’s communication needs. 

We also want to see compulsory deaf awareness training for frontline NHS staff, including simple tips for how to communicate with deaf people, BSL users and people with hearing loss. 

What about the rest of the UK?  

Health and social care are devolved to the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where different guidance exists on what providers must to do make services accessible. Yet similar issues with access to services are also being reported by people who are deaf or have hearing loss in these countries. RNID will continue to lobby for commitments to improve access to services across the UK. 

We’ll be publishing articles up until the 4 July general election, outlining our demands of our ‘Loud and Clear’ charity manifesto. 

Share your story about accessing healthcare

Have you experienced difficulties in accessing health or social care as a result of being deaf or having hearing loss? We want to hear your story. 
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