Local GPs deliver accessible information for visually impaired patients after visit by MP

Lynne Featherstone with Haringey Phoenix members and staff from Dukes Avenue PracticeIn the latest breakthrough in her fight for equal access to health information for local blind and partially sighted residents, Lynne Featherstone MP on Friday had a commitment from Dukes Avenue Practice that they will produce information in accessible formats for their visually impaired patients.
The assurances were given as the Hornsey and Wood Green MP visited the Muswell Hill based surgery with members of the Haringey Phoenix Group in a bid to help advise on the best way of delivering for visually impaired residents. The visit was set up after Lynne wrote to all GP surgeries in her constituency in the summer about their provision of information in formats such as Braille, audio and large print.
This was the latest step in the ‘losing patients’ campaign, which aims to get local providers to adhere to laws that ensure health information is accessible in all formats.
Lynne Featherstone MP comments:
“It’s great to see that our fight for accessible health information is picking up steam, with many local GPs showing a real willingness to develop good systems that deliver for blind and partially sighted residents.
“The visit to Dukes Avenue has been especially encouraging – they are really going the extra mile to make sure they meet their patients’ needs – and today I think we have made great strides for visually impaired residents here in Muswell Hill.”

MP supports battle for blind and partially sighted people

Lynne Featherstone at the Winkfield CentreTo continue the battle for better treatment of blind and partially sighted residents attending hospitals and doctors surgeries locally, Lynne Featherstone MP has visited a special blind awareness class at the Winkfield Centre in Wood Green.

The class was teaching 4th year medical students from UCL about the special challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people, and follows a visit a few months ago, when the Liberal Democrat MP and members of the Haringey Phoenix Group met with the Whittington Hospital. That visit formed part of a campaign by the RNIB to get hospitals to make its patient information available in accessible formats such as audio, Braille and large print.

To help increase awareness, the Hornsey and Wood Green MP and the medical students got to wear special sight impairing glasses whilst walking around in the centre’s garden.

Lynne Featherstone MP comments:

“This is such a brilliant way to catch the doctors at an early stage and ensure they have special awareness of the challenges faced by blind and partially sighted people.

“Using the glasses was a great way of giving the young doctors an idea of what having impaired vision is like, and is a small step to help make life easier for blind and partially sighted people here in Hornsey and Wood Green.”

The Whittington says yes!

No – this isn’t about the A&E – I wish they said yes to that too. No – this is my visit to the Whittington with members of the Haringey Phoenix Group who work with blind and visually impaired people in Haringey.

Have you ever thought about this – you get the results to your tests for cancer – and because it is in print – you can’t read it and have to ask a neighbour to help. Can you imagine how dreadful it must be to have to bring someone else into what is a private matter. Of course – you may be lucky and have a partner or friend who you are happy to see your most intimate correspondence – but there are times when this just isn’t appropriate. Or the letter might be about an appointment – and you don’t get to see it or know about it until too late. And quite frankly – it should be a basic right in a civilised society to receive medical information in a form that is accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired.

Well – actually it is a right – in legislation! The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Duty of 2006 say this should be the case – but the actuality just isn’t happening. Partly this is because patients don’t ask – and partly because hospitals and GPs don’t offer or aren’t set up to deliver.

Hence my visit with the wonderful Haringey Phoenix Group. We met with Kate Slemeck and two other Whittington officials to discuss how we could arrive at a situation where asking wasn’t necessary because the IT system flagged up both that the patient was visually impaired but also what type of communication results, appointments – any communication – should be in. This could be anything from braille, to large print format (different point sizes for different degrees of impairment), audio tapes, etc.  Then automatically – all communication would be in that format. This is part of a campaign by the RNIB to convert the right in law – to the reality on the ground.

Three cheers for the Whittington – who embraced this and said they could see no reason why not – and were prepared to run a pilot. This would be a real breakthrough and the Whittington would be the first hospital to trial and hopefully become a beacon for provision of communication in appropriate format.

Of course – there’s a bit of a way to go – but they were welcoming, said that their IT system could flag this information up as we suggested. The next stage is to get GPs to ensure that this information – that the patient is visually impaired and identify the format required – so that it can be put onto the hospital system. And of course – it needs to be on the GP system – and all blind and visually impaired people need to make sure that the GP does this and so on.

So next step is to get Haringey PCT to write to all the GPs locally asking them to make sure that both on their own system and when they refere patients to the Whittington – it is made clear that this information has to be entered for flagging and so on.

I am assuming that the PCT will be delighted and willing to do so. I cannot imagine any reason why not – and this is the sort of small change that will make a huge difference.

Three cheers for the Whittington!