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An article posted by the BBC  revealed specific and widespread concerns about the way in which disabled patients are treated and whether appropriate steps are taken to ensure that they understand the treatment they receive. Disability is not subject to the same test as ‘capacity’, but consent should be. How can it be possible to consent to something not clearly explained?

I have been involved with a number of cases where disabled people have been similarly disadvantaged in terms of communication needs at hospital or in GP practices.

I have represented deaf people who were told they could not have British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreters during childbirth or at GP meetings unless they paid themselves.

People with sight loss are often routinely sent appointment cards or letters in paper format…… which they can’t read! Worse still these are usually from Ophthalmological Departments.

I have intervened in cases where Guide Dogs or Support Animals have not been allowed onto wards and during the pandemic I was involved with changing the NHS Visitor Policies to allow disabled patients to have non clinical care based support and in relation to ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ notices placed on patients without their consent or knowledge.

It’s disappointing to see that despite these cases, many health providers continue to get these things wrong and great to see that stories about these issues are coming to the mainstream media.

The Legal Bit

In providing information, care and treatment a health care provider is providing facilities and services within the meaning of section 29 of the Equality Act 2010.  They are subject to obligations contained not to discriminate, including the positive obligation to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments in accordance with sections 20 and 21.

Failing to provide BSL Interpreters is a failure to make reasonable adjustments and is discrimination because it creates a substantial disadvantage experienced by Deaf patients who communicate by BSL compared to non-disabled patients. 

The same principle applies to failing to allow support animals as auxilliary aids and in terms of inaccessible information.

Section 20(6) of the Equality Act makes it clear that the duty to make reasonable adjustments includes “a duty to provide information in an accessible format where appropriate”. Failing to provide patients with information in an accessible format is an actionable failure to make reasonable adjustments leading to different remedies. 

It’s also worth recognising that Hospitals are governed by section 250 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to follow The Accessible Information Standard (DCB1605 Accessible Information). This requires Hospitals to identify, record, flag, share and meet the information and communication support needs of disabled service users.

What to do about it?

The Equality Act provides opportunities to change policies and practices to fix these issues, and also for compensation. This is often possible by using one of our free template complaint letters.

If your complaints are ignored then we can help often on a pro bono or No Win No Fee basis.

Remember also that we are contactable by Sign Video

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