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Tackling communication barriers

Improving contacts with health and care services

Communication barriers make health and care appointments more difficult for those living with hearing, vision, or cognitive difficulties

Appointments can be unnecessarily stressful when staff don’t appreciate the difficulties or recognise how embarrassing and distressing simple things can be.  Some people find it so difficult that they are reluctant to seek help, even in an emergency. 

Common worries relate to missing appointments because you can’t hear your name being called, or see a screen announcing that it’s your turn.  Others relate to the embarrassment of being unable to follow simple instructions such as a member of staff saying, “Follow me”.  

Communication barriers mean that people often leave appointments not knowing what was discussed or feeling frustrated because they could not adequately express their own views or preferences.

People with sight or hearing loss report significant challenges in booking appointments and being supported during them by a suitable interpreter. Carents are often called upon to act as translators, advocates and assistants but this can result in loss of privacy, independence and dignity for those affected and there is also a risk that important details aren't passed on or are “lost in translation”.

Luckily, patients with these problems now have legal rights designed to overcome their difficulties and help them get the best out of the care available. 

These rights are set out in the Accessible Information Standard.  It applies to all organisations that provide NHS care and/or publicly funded adult social care and requires them to ask:

  • What is the best way to contact you? You can choose texts, emails, letters etc – if you prefer, you can also ask that someone like a carent is copied into correspondence
  • What format do you need information in?  You can request easy read, large print, online video etc
  • Do you need a communication professional for your appointments? You can request a note taker, sign language translator,
  • Are there any other ways we can support communication?  This is an opportunity for you to raise any concerns such as help with hearing aids, calling out names in waiting rooms, understanding what is said during a consultation. etc

This video describes the law in more detail:


I had no idea that someone with age related hearing loss could be helped in this way

Being copied into dad's letters made things a lot easier


May 2022

Did you find this information helpful?  Let us know what you  think or pass on some advice to other carents by emailing us at [email protected]

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