Making healthcare accessible for all

In my role as the Health Policy Officer for Sense I spend a lot of time listening to the views and experiences of deafblind people on the healthcare services that they access.  The other day I was talking to Joanne who told me about how she nearly missed her flu vaccination because it was being advertised using posters in her GP waiting room which she couldn’t see as she is blind; thankfully her husband saw the poster and mentioned it to her so she was able to ask her GP about it in her next appointment.

There are so many aspects of healthcare services that need consideration for those who are deafblind – more than I initially realised.  These range from needing appointment letters in accessible formats (e.g. braille or large print) so that the person can know when their next appointment is, to having appropriate communication support (e.g. a deafblind manual or BSL interpreter) booked for appointments or stays in hospital.  Other considerations include the lighting and layout of clinics as well as how to know your name is being called in a waiting room if you can’t hear or see the doctor or nurse.

One of the projects that I’ve been working on over the past few months is supporting NHS England with the development of their new Accessible Information Standard.  The standard, which will hopefully be launched this summer, will outline how health and social care services should identify the different information formats and communication support needs that their patients have and ensure that they can meet them.  We have been involving deafblind people in this project all  the way along and it’s been fantastic to see NHS England getting to grips with understanding the needs of deafblind people; most importantly that no two deafblind people are the same or have the same needs so an individual approach is needed.  I think it has been quite a learning experience for them to hear about all of the different communication methods and information formats that people use so that they could include them in the standard!   At the beginning of last year we ran an event where deafblind people were able to meet with NHS England and share their views – have a look at this video to see what they said.

As well as hearing the experiences and needs of those who are deafblind, it’s important that the NHS and its staff find out how they can best support their patients.  A lot of the difficulties that I hear about have easy solutions and boil down to staff needing more general awareness of deafblindness; from making sure that they explain to their blind patient where the drink is located on the table in front of them to going and collecting their patient from the waiting room rather than shouting their name from a doorway out of sight.

I used to work for the NHS, and have many friends who still do, and know that on the whole staff want to do the best for their patients but don’t always know how to.  Perhaps, next time you visit your GP or go to hospital you could give the staff you meet a ‘top tip’ for how to support a deafblind person.  In the meantime if you’d like to know more about the different projects we are working on, visit the healthcare pages on our website or send me an email.

Author: Sarah White

Sarah White is the Head of Public Policy and Campaigns at Sense.

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