Victoria Armitage, from the Royal National Institute of Blind People, shares her experience of general practice as someone with sight loss.
In my work for the RNIB, I’ve met many people with sight loss who regularly tell me about the difficulties they experience when visiting a GP or a hospital. As someone with sight loss myself, I have experienced firsthand the frustration of, for example, being sat in a waiting room and hearing my name called only to discover the ghost to have already disappeared back into their consulting room – which room?
Sometimes these difficulties are frustrating and embarrassing, but some can be much more serious, with many patients not being given information in a format that they can read, or more vulnerable patients being left without knowing where their food and drink is, or even that it has arrived.
Difficulties can often be compounded because many people are often reluctant to identify themselves as needing additional help and will try to hide the fact that they have sight loss. Sometimes people will carry around a visible sign of sight loss, such as a small white stick called a symbol cane, but many people with severe sight loss do not think of themselves as someone who is “blind” or even “partially sighted”. Sometimes people may simply identify with “having bad vision”.
Of course, health professionals and clerical staff are usually rushed off their feet – so it’s no wonder that the needs of people with sight loss do get overlooked. However, a few simple changes in practice could make a world of difference to patients with sight loss – as well as helping to ensure that you are complying with equality legislation.
Under the Equality Act (2010) people with sight loss are entitled to be treated fairly. The Act expects reasonable adjustments to be made to services so that persons with sight loss use them independently.
As well as the Equality Act, NHS England is currently developing an Accessible Information Standard to ensure that all NHS and social care providers have a method of recording and providing the reading format preference of people with disabilities, such as sight loss. The Standard could be enforceable as early as 2016.
Many of our supporters are keen to pass on recommendations to NHS providers about how they could improve their care for people with sight loss, and we also know that NHS providers are increasingly using patient experience to improve their services. That’s why we’ve recently taken all the feedback we have received over the years and compiled some tops tips for healthcare professionals on treating people with sight loss.
Much of our advice is common sense, but in a busy care environment it’s easy to overlook some of these issues. However, with one in five people aged 75 and over living with sight loss, making these small changes could make a massive difference to the experiences of your patients.
To access the RNIB’s top tips and help make services more accessible to people with sight loss, visit www.rnib.org.uk/toptips. If you would like more information contact the RNIB campaigns team on 020 7391 2123.