The NHS in the UK recently launched a consultation into the proposed ‘Accessible Information Standard’ which recommends measures to meet patients’ communication needs, including the provision of Speech to Text. While I welcome these improvements — and boy, do we need them — it does beg a question as to why this is felt necessary in addition to the Equality Act 2010. As Laura Ringham wrote, way back in 2012:
There is a clear legal foundation for providing access to healthcare services for people with hearing loss. The Equality Act 2010 requires service providers to make reasonable adjustments to make their service accessible for people who are disabled, and states that they must anticipate and promote these adjustments rather than make them on a responsive basis.
Ringham L, 2012, Access All Areas? A report into the experiences of people with hearing loss when accessing healthcare, Action on Hearing Loss
So, why is it that the Health Service is so behind in terms of making reasonable adjustments so that patients can understand what is being said to them during examinations and consultations? And, where are the legal challenges to the shoddy status quo?
In 2012, the Action on Hearing Loss survey found that “after attending an appointment with a GP:
- More than one-quarter (28%) of respondents had been unclear about a diagnosis
- Around one-quarter (26%) had been unclear about health advice they were provided with
- Approximately one-fifth (19%) had been unclear about their medication.”
And yet, with all that evidence (based on a survey of over 600 people), the NHS recommendations are for a timescale of autumn 2015 to bring in their ‘Accessible Information Standard’. What are we meant to do in the meantime…?
Another shocking fact is that while the Action on Hearing Loss report found that “One in seven respondents (14%) had missed an appointment because they had missed being called in the waiting room” and “just under half (44%) of respondents said that their GP surgery had a visual display screen,” the new proposals don’t even tackle this most basic need. It’s all very well having STTR or an interpreter on standby – but it’s not much use if hours after your name’s been called, you’re still sitting in the waiting room.
If you live in the UK and want to have your say, please read the consultation document and complete the online survey. You can visit the website to access information about the draft standard and the questions in an alternative format.
For me this is not a case of ‘too little too late’ but it is a case of not enough not quickly enough!