'More help needed' to make patient info accessible, Healthwatch says

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Healthwatch said some cannot read a print letter while others cannot use a phone and have to ask private and confidential information to be read out

People with disabilities must be helped more by health providers to access information, a report has found.

Over 300 people in North Yorkshire were asked about communication from GPs, hospitals, and healthcare providers in a survey by watchdog Healthwatch.

The report said there is "some good practice" but many patients are not being contacted in their preferred format.

This leads to missed appointments which "costs time and money".

Since 2016, the Accessible Information Standard means health and care organisations must legally provide a "consistent approach to identifying, recording, flagging, sharing, and meeting the information and communication support needs of patients, service users, carers and parents with a disability, impairment, or sensory loss," Healthwatch said.

But the report said some people receive printed letters which they are unable to read meaning they have to ask for private and confidential information to be relayed.

Scarborough respondent Ian said it was "amazing" that in the 21st Century many are still facing such issues.

"The [GP booking] system doesn't anticipate that not everyone can use the phone," he said.

"The problem is a lot of organisations haven't moved with the times".

Siân Balsom, of Healthwatch York, said the legally-binding accessibility requirement has been in place for six years but evidence shows many people still struggle to access information in a suitable format.

"We hope this report will be a first step in improving this situation and making sure that those with lived experiences are listened to and supported," she said.

"This is just the beginning of a long-term project in which we hope to work with health and care providers to make accessible information normal practice."

Healthwatch North Yorkshire urged health and care providers to adopt the report's recommendations.

"It is essential that organisations ask people what format they need and then act on this information," Healthwatch said.

"Unfortunately, on many occasions, the responsibility is still on the person to ask for information in their preferred format. However, even when it is raised many times, respondents said their needs are often still not taken into account," it added.

The BBC has contacted the NHS for comment.

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