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      Getting communication right at the GP

      Our Policy and Campaigns volunteer, Nathalie, who has severe hearing loss, explains the Accessible Information Standard (AIS) and how it can help you.

      By: Nathalie Sfakianos | 16 November 2018
      I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel as if my visits to the GP are like an obstacle course. I’ve been going to the same surgery since 1999 but they still don’t take my severe hearing loss into consideration.

      On arrival, I have to remind the receptionists – despite having checked that my hearing loss is recorded on my notes – that I need to lipread to hear. There are different waiting rooms, and I often have to ask twice to be sure I know which one I should be going to. Once there, I have to wait vigilantly because there is no electronic system, so people’s names are called for consultations.

      When I’m finally seen, the doctor seldom looks at me when talking – sometimes even when I ask – and never checks that I’ve understood the information given to me. As my hearing is so bad, all my concentration goes into making sure I hear the words being said. It’s often not until after I get home that I process what they actually mean. If I have a question to ask, I’m always offered a phone consultation despite the many, many times I’ve told them that I do not use the telephone.

      The stress of negotiating that obstacle course is added, every time, to the anxiety of needing the doctor in the first place. I’m a little ashamed to say that, sometimes, I just give up and leave health problems longer than I should.


      What is the AIS and why do we need it?

      The Accessibility Information Standard (AIS) is designed to help NHS services ensure people with disabilities, including those who are deaf or have hearing loss, have their communication needs met. This includes being able to book appointments, and understanding all the information and advice given before, during, and after their visit.

      Since August 2016, providers have been legally obliged to comply with these requirements. But evidence shows that it’s not happening. For example, our recent report Good Practice? highlighted that nearly two-thirds (64%) of people who are deaf or have hearing loss are leaving their GP appointment feeling unclear about their health advice.


      What can be done?

      In the past few months, I’ve been working on a research project for Action on Hearing Loss exploring how well accessibility issues affecting people who are deaf or have hearing loss are included in the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) inspection reports. Our Good Practice report findings, as well as feedback from NHS England and the CQC itself, show that many GPs are still not complying with the standard. However, the CQC’s inspection reports fail to mention this.

      Finding this out made me realise there is something I can do to protect my own health. I want to take charge of my own healthcare, and not rely on my husband to relay what doctors are saying to me. I need to understand how not having my hearing loss taken seriously jeopardises my physical and emotional health

      The AIS has the potential to transform the way people like me access health and social care. However, to be effective, it must be properly implemented and enforced. NHS services need to work together to tackle this issue head-on.

      My research has enlightened me that I can also do my bit by telling my GP what the AIS says and being determined enough to say, every time I feel unsupported at my GP surgery, exactly what they could and should be doing to help me get the health information I need. I need to help them to help me.

      If you’ve experienced poor quality care, you can tell your GP how their services weren’t accessible and the changes you would like to see. Action on Hearing Loss has created a simple tool to help you contact your GP.
      Getting communication right at the GP

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