Jason Gordon

Duty of Care: CQC targets health and social care inequality

The Care Quality Commission has set ambitious goals to target inequalities in health  and social care between now and 2019. Read more about the goals here...

As England’s independent health regulator, CQC has pledged – alongside other objectives – to check that publicly funded healthcare providers measure up to the new Accessible Information Standard (AIS). From October 2017 the CQC, as part of regular inspections, will be assessing what steps health & social care providers are taking to meet their AIS obligations.

Enforced last year, AIS aims to serve people who have information and communication needs.

Developed by NHS England and partners, the standard mandates that people with disability or sensory loss can get information in the right format for them, as well as any additional support they need to communicate.

As CQC explains in its proposals:

“When people can’t understand information and don't get the support they need to communicate, it can stop them getting a correct diagnosis; attending appointments; receiving safe and effective care or treatment; being treated with dignity and respect; and being listened to and involved in their care.”

Accessing and understanding healthcare-related information is a major obstacle for a significant proportion of the UK population suffering some form of disability or sensory impairment, as figures presented by CQC highlight:
  • 11 million people have hearing loss, of which 900,000 are severely or profoundly deaf;
  • Almost two million people are living with sight loss, with 360,000 registered as blind or partially-sighted and 250,000 deafblind;
  • 1.5 million people have a learning disability;
  • More than 350,000 people have aphasia (difficulties finding, using or understanding the right words, for example after a stroke).

Delegates at our recent seminar ‘Building Accessible, Inclusive Digital Health & Social Care Services’ heard more about AIS from Sarah White, who sits on the standard’s advisory group and also leads on health policy for national deafblind charity Sense.

Three years in the making, the roots of the standard go even further back to The Equality Act 2010.

This states that all providers of public services must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support disabled people.

Drawing on her experiences as an NHS audiologist, Sarah emphasised a desire among patients to take greater ownership of their own healthcare journey, with less reliance on family, friends and carers.

“We know that people with communication needs often get information that they cannot read or understand – or they don't get the support they need”, noted Sarah. If a patient is unable to read the instructions on a bottle of medicine for any reason, this can have a big impact on health outcomes. Similarly, someone with hearing loss can leave an appointment with their GP without fully understanding the implications of their diagnosis and treatment.

The Accessible Information Standard attempts to tackle these challenges in a series of clear steps for health providers. These range from identifying patients’ individual needs – like receiving letters and emails in large print – and flagging them clearly in all care records, to sharing information between different providers so crucial details don’t get ‘lost in transit’.

“If the Standard is implemented properly”, stated Sarah, “it will be transformative for people who’ve historically had poor access to services that they need – and have a clear right to.”

What are you doing to meet your organisation’s Accessible Information Standard obligations? Join in the conversation below.

Getting ready for your Care Quality Commission inspection? Find out how Assistive Technology can improve your patient access.


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