August 2021 marked the five-year anniversary of the Accessible Information Standard (AIS) in England.
NHS England introduced the AIS to ensure all health information would be made available in the most accessible format for each patient, e.g. in braille, large print, audio, email etc.
The AIS provides good practice guidelines to health trusts and professionals to ensure the communication support needs of patients, service users, carers and parents with a disability are met.
Five years on, and we find the picture remains mixed. Most blind and partially sighted people still regularly fail to have their communication support needs met, many authorities lack policies to ensure AIS compliance, and many staff remain unaware of the AIS or its purpose.
Following a Freedom of Information Act request to NHS bodies, plus our own in-depth research, we have found that:
- 90% of the blind and partially sighted people we spoke to were not regularly receiving medical information in their preferred format, with a third saying they never had.
- 75% said they cannot remember ever being asked by the NHS about preferred information formats, even though the AIS expressly states that this should happen.
- Only 45% of NHS bodies have policies in place for applying the AIS, with just 10% more currently in the process of introducing them.
- 51% of NHS bodies reported that they had never engaged people with disabilities as part of their AIS implementation.
- 70% of NHS bodies also said they had no means of recording numbers of accessible materials issued.
Our campaign aims to celebrate the progress made in many areas while calling for increased compliance in others and, critically, to raise awareness of the standard among blind and partially sighted people themselves and their right to request and receive information in accessible formats.
“I advise my GP and hospitals of my need for accessible information on contact with them. There are times this request hasn’t been met. I missed an urgent scan once and on another occasion was chasing an appointment I was expecting only to be told I had missed it.” – Eamon from Greater Manchester SLC
We are calling on the managers of NHS England and local NHS bodies, including hospitals and GP practices, to:
- Introduce clear local policies on AIS implementation and monitor the effectiveness and reach.
- Engage with blind and partially sighted people and others with accessible information needs to ensure that requirements are understood and met.
- Train all health staff in accessible information and communication as part of a wider programme of workplace equalities and disabled access education.
Take our campaign action on AIS
Our campaign aims to see the standard applied and understood universally throughout England. You can get involved in our campaign by writing to your local GP surgery using our template letter for GP surgeries in the link below.
Simply, add your surgery’s address in the space at the top, insert your name at the bottom, and send by post or email.
By taking this step, you will reinforce the purpose of the standard and remind surgeries of the five steps on the proper application of the AIS: namely, needs must be identified, recorded, flagged, shared and met. Your action will help prove the need for policies and training regarding accessible information, increase staff understanding of the issue, or provide a reminder that everything set out by the AIS constitutes reasonable adjustments.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that the Accessible Information standard is still not implemented appropriately across the country five years later. It makes a big difference to blind and partially sighted people to get the information in a format that they can read. Health information must be accessible. So, we are completely frustrated that the Accessible Information standard is not being implemented appropriately. We have tried, on many occasions, talking to York hospital about being able to meet their requirements under the law. And most of the time, we get the excuse that computer systems don’t talk to each other. But we’ve had five years to try and sort out computer systems not talking to each other. So, when is it ever going to happen?” – Diane Roworth from York SLC
Share your stories
We’d like to hear from your about your experiences with accessible healthcare information – whether good or bad. If you have a story to tell, contact us by emailing email@example.com
It could be an information access request that was never met, but it might also be a positive experience, such as being offered an alternative format without asking. Please get in touch – we’re keen to know!
Whatever you tell us helps to turn up the volume!
“My GP practice is excellent as they use email and text. However, as for getting accessible Information from hospitals is concerned – it is impossible. Even though I have had consultants ask for letters to be sent to me in large print. NHS England blames the CCGs – who tell you to contact the Local PALs – who can’t be bothered to answer emails!” – Rosie from Essex SLC
How to understand your rights
For further information on how to assert your rights to accessible information, follow the below link to download an RNIB toolkit.