Making sure GPs provide information in a way that people can understand

After being told by patients that local GPs weren’t meeting the needs of patients with communication difficulties, one local Healthwatch decided to take action.
Man speaking to his GP

Since 2016, NHS services have had to comply with the Accessible Information Standard, which aims to ensure that people with a disability or sensory loss are given information in a way they can understand.

After being told by local people that GP services where not properly supporting those with communication needs, Healthwatch Camden decided to look more at people’s experiences and whether local services were meeting the Accessible Information Standard. 

They spoke to local people who are Deaf, have visual or hearing impairments, as well as people with learning disabilities to find out more about their experiences of GP services in Camden. Here they  tell us more about what Anna Wright, Deputy Director and Policy Lead at Healthwatch Camden told us more about what they found.

What did people tell you?

We heard from many people who needed extra support with communication that they faced difficulties accessing GP appointments.

“When it’s my turn the name and room comes up on a screen but I can’t see it. So I look around to see if anyone else gets up and moves. Then I have to ask another waiting patient and say “did you see that name because no one moved?””

There were also many examples of people not being given information by services about their care in a way they could understand.

“The doctor sent me the results but I couldn’t understand it. I had to go back to ask what it meant. My appointment letter wasn’t in Easy Read. I don’t think they know how to do them.”

People we spoke to also told us that practice staff weren’t doing enough to identify their needs in the first place. Some patients felt that they weren’t listened to, and their preferences weren’t taken into account.

“I have seen Deaf people in tears because we feel like we are hitting a brick wall. And they look at you like you’re nuts.”

What did you do?

When we followed the issues up with local GPs, we found that none of the surgeries in Camden were meeting the Accessible Information Standard.

We found that some staff either weren’t aware or didn’t understand the standard and how it related to their work. Or we found that surgeries lacked the time and resource to implement the standard despite it being a legal requirement.

What is the Accessible Information Standard?

The aim of the Accessible Information Standard is to make sure that people who have a disability, impairment or sensory loss get information in a way they can easily access and understand, and any communication support they need.

This includes making sure that people get information in different formats if they need it, for example in large print, easy read or via email, or providing support from an interpreter.

All organisations that provide NHS or adult social care are required to follow the new standard, including NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts, and GP practices.

Find out more about the standard 

What happened next?

We decided to help. We visited every GP practice in Camden, running training for staff and giving them the support and resources they needed to meet the communication needs of all their patients.

During the visits we focussed on helping to make sure that staff understood that every patient should be able register at the practice using a format they prefer and that meets their needs

During the visits we make sure that staff understands that every patient should be able register at the practice using a format that meets their needs and, going a step further, we adapt the practice forms into Large Print and Easy Read format for them.

We also emphasised the importance of proactively asking patients ‘do you have any communication needs?’ and making sure their preferences were recorded and acted on in the future. 

We also emphasised other practical steps services could take such as making sure all staff receive deaf awareness training and making sure that tools such as hearing loops are available.

What local feedback did you get about this work?

Local GPs have been really up for addressing the issue. So far we’ve provided training for 24 GP practices to help them comply with the Accessible Information Standard and the feedback from staff has been really positive. A further eight practices have booked training sessions, which will mean  every GP practice in Camden has had a visit from us and is compliant with the basic requirements of the Accessible Information Standard.

Local people have also noticed changes to the service they get.  Merfyn, a local Deaf resident, told us that following staff training he has really noticed a difference. GP staff are more focussed on his needs and he has really noticed improvements in the way the service communicates with him. 

Has your work had any other impacts?

Under the Accessible Information Standard, GP practices are meant to provide registration forms in alternative formats for people with communication needs, but we found that NHS England does not currently offer a national template that services can use.

As part of our work we created large print and easy read versions of the patient registration form that many GPs use. We have shared these with NHS England who are in the process of approving these to make them available for any GP practice in the country to use.

Read more about what Healthwatch Camden found when they spoke to people with communications support needs in their access to GP.

Find out more

Read what local Healthwatch have been hearing over from people with sensory and communication impairment about their experiences in our consultation response to NHS England. 

Find out more

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