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New report highlights how well health and care services meet the needs of the 180,000 Essex residents with a sensory impairment

The latest engagement project from Healthwatch Essex – the independent charity that provides a voice for the people of Essex on health and care services – has highlighted the significant issues people with sensory impairments face when accessing and using health and care services in the county.

Last year saw the introduction of the Accessible Information Standard, making it a legal requirement for all NHS care or adult social care organisations to make sure that people who have a disability, impairment or sensory loss are provided with information that they can easily read or understand, and with support so they can communicate effectively.

However, the new report highlights a range of difficulties people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, sight impaired or severely sight impaired or Deafblind experience on a regular basis.

Dr Tom Nutt, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Essex said, “This report is an excellent counterpoint to the introduction of the Accessible Information Standard. There are service providers out there that have taken it seriously, but there are others that simply don’t take responsibility to understand the issues sensory impaired people face.

“One profoundly deaf participant told us that when she asked a receptionist, ‘How do deaf people make appointments?’, her reply was to shrug her shoulders and say, ‘We’ve never had a complaint before’.
“A blind participant told us of an experience where a receptionist told him to, ‘go and take a seat over there!’. Not thinking that ‘over there’ could be construed as just a tad ambiguous by a blind person!”
Healthwatch Essex worked with partners ECL Sensory Service, the Royal Association for the Deaf, Support 4 Sight, Essex Sight and Hearing Help Essex, running a number of focus groups and bringing together participants and others at an event last month.

Key findings of the report are the impact on dignity and quality of life and the loss of autonomy and confidentiality. Many participants highlighted the fact they often needed to get a family member or carer to make appointments for them, which was inconvenient and in some cases compromised their patient confidentiality.

Amongst the range of problems regularly experienced were inflexible booking systems, poor recording and sharing of information and people not receiving information and communication in their preferred format.
“People told us what they most valued was to be treated as an individual so they can take control where possible,” said Tom. “They don’t want to repeat their story at each consultation and they want to encounter friendly, helpful staff who provide them with information in a format that is suitable for them. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.”