A Freedom of information requested submitted to the NHS by Healthwatch England found that of the 139 NHS trusts that responded, only a third are compliant with Information Accessibility Standards (AIS).
The Accessible Information Standard was introduced by NHS England in 2016 and holds health and social care providers accountable for ensuring they identify, record, report, share and meet information and communication needs of those who use their services.
More than half of trusts (53%) said they asked patients on first contact what their communication needs were, with a quarter not recording these needs in their patient records.
FOI found that many trusts felt that lack of staff awareness and lack of IT systems prevented them from putting in place appropriate communication arrangements.
Sir Robert Francis QC, Chairman of Healthwatch England, said: “Our findings clearly show the failure to protect the rights of our most vulnerable patients to accessible information and communication support due to poor accountability. across all of our health services.
“Health and care services are legally required to follow the accessible information standard, but there is currently no effective mechanism to hold them accountable for how they put it into practice.
“People want clear and understandable information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health and care and to get the most out of services. For example, without appropriate communication support during GP or hospital appointments, patients and their families can suffer psychologically with long-term consequences for their health and well-being.
“This research shows that health and care services within the 42 newly created integrated care systems need to act to ensure that no one is excluded from accessing healthcare due to their communication needs. NHS England must hold health and care services accountable for implementing the accessible information standard to protect these rights.
A review, shared with Healthwatch, published the experiences of 6,200 people with health services between April 2019 and September 2021. Many of these experiences showed that people who are blind, deaf or have a learning disability stopped to have the same access to NHS information during the pandemic.