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Healthwatch Surrey is calling for GP practices, NHS England and NHS leaders to provide better support for people with communication needs.

120 people from “seldom heard” communities spoke to the local champion for users of health and social care, about their ‘GP Journey’. Some of the groups involved had specific communication needs when visiting their GP, for example; people who are deaf, people with visual impairment, people with aphasia, and members of the Nepalese community for whom English is a second language.

Most people were happy overall with the care they received from their GP, but there were common frustrations relating to problems with communication and telephone booking systems, physical access to the surgery and the lack of continuity of care for people with long term conditions.

Findings of the new report, ‘My GP Journey’ included:

Where surgeries offered an email contact as an alternative to phone booking (an essential alternative for those who cannot use the phone) patients told us that messages could be left unanswered for up to 2 weeks.
People who are deaf or experience hearing loss reported a lack of provision of British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, hearing loops and SMS numbers.
Patients with certain conditions that can make communication more difficult, such as aphasia, dementia or being deaf, felt there was a need for greater understanding by some GPs and practice staff of their particular communication needs – for example not just ‘talking louder’.
There was little awareness of services which should make booking easier such as NHS 111 out-of-hours and online appointment booking among those we spoke to.
Communication wasn’t the only barrier. Less physically able people found some surgeries difficult to navigate, including slopes which were too steep, no handrail and automatic doors that closed too quickly.

Healthwatch Surrey’s Operations Manager, Lisa Sian, explained:

‘We’re calling on NHS bosses and GP surgeries to comply with the NHS Accessible Information Standard and take action to improve access to services like online booking, interpreters, SMS contact numbers, and hearing loops, so that everyone can have equal access to GP services’.

“Community groups can help surgeries better understand what it’s like for people with specific communication needs, and highlight the relatively small things that can improve things– such as visual aids, prompt cards and alerts on their records to flag their needs to surgery staff.”

Aphasia is a condition caused by damage to parts of the brain responsible for understanding and using language. Alice Owen from Surrey aphasia charity Dyscover said:

‘Getting a GP appointment can be a struggle. For people with aphasia, it’s even harder – telephone booking is often impossible and queuing in person adds too much pressure to talk to the receptionist’

Suzie, who has aphasia and attends the support groups at Dyscover, told us “if I had some way of letting the receptionist know that I had limited speech, it would help as they could speak slower and relieve the pressure of the queue”’.

NHS and social care providers have a legal responsibility under the Accessible Information Standard (2016), to ensure that people are provided with information in a way they can easily understand and which allows them to communicate with services.

Lisa added: ‘We appreciate that GP services are under unprecedented pressure, but we hope to work more closely with providers to help them implement small changes that can make a big difference to those with communication needs.’

The report and recommendations will be shared with local NHS leaders, commissioners and GP practices, and Healthwatch Surrey will be seeking their formal responses on behalf of the public.

The report can be found at hwsurrey.dev.onpressidium.com/my-gp-journey together with an accompanying video and a copy of the report in British Sign Language.

Anyone who would like to share their experience of an NHS or social care service can contact Healthwatch Surrey on 0303 303 0023 or email enquiries@healthwatchsurrey.co.uk


For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Lauren ter Kuile: 01483 533043 or 07545 433465 or email lauren.terkuile@healthwatchsurrey.co.uk

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