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NHS Accessible Information Standard: frequently asked questions

Read more about how NHS and social care services in England need to provide accessible information, and the update to the Accessible Information Standard expected in October 2023.

What is the NHS England Accessible Information Standard?

The NHS Accessible Information Standard was launched in August 2016. It’s sometimes referred to as the AIS or the Standard, and its technical name is DCB1605 Accessible Information.

The aim of the Standard is to ensure that "patients with communication needs" receive accessible information and appropriate communication support, so they can access services independently, and make decisions about their health, wellbeing, care and treatment.

The Standard means that blind and partially sighted people must receive health and social care information in a format they can read and understand, fulfilling legal rights to accessible information under the Equality Act 2010.

The Accessible Information Standard includes:

  • How and when NHS and adult social care services record people's information and communication needs.
  • Sharing people’s information and communication needs across services (with their permission so they don’t have to keep requesting alternative formats for every health care provider).
  • How people’s information and communication needs are met, such as providing information in alternative formats such as braille, large print, audio, or email.

Why is an updated Accessible Information Standard needed?

In 2021, RNIB and other charities surveyed NHS and social care professionals in England, and people with accessible information and communication needs. The survey asked about the NHS Accessible Information Standard. Responses indicated that people with communication needs receive a lower quality of healthcare, including situations which could put them at serious risk.

Poor implementation of the AIS has serious practical, health and emotional consequences. People shared experiences of a lack of accessible communications as a barrier to making appointments, communicating with health professionals, finding out test results and receiving accessible information on discharge and medication instructions.

Despite reports of good practice in some areas, knowledge of the Standard is still poor among healthcare professionals and adherence to it is even worse:

  • 1 in 3 health and social care providers were unaware or unsure of the existence of the AIS.
  • Only 35 per cent of professionals reported that their organisation provides regular training linked to the Standard, and 37 per cent report training has never occurred.
  • 77 per cent of people with accessible information needs reported rarely or never receiving information in alternative formats.
  • Only 41 per cent of complaints procedures were reported to be accessible by the professionals who filled in the survey.

When will the Standard be updated, and what will change?

The Standard is currently under review and an updated Standard is set to be released in October 2023. Some of the expected changes include:

  • The Standard currently has a five stage process which covers identification, recording, flagging, sharing and meeting of communication needs. We expect the updated Standard to add a sixth stage, requiring health and care providers to review existing patients with recorded communication needs, to check for accuracy.
  • Health and care providers will need to review their systems for implementing the Standard, to ensure they are fit for purpose.
  • Training on the Standard must be mandatory for all appropriate health and care staff.
  • A national framework must be put in place to ensure health and social care services are accountable for fully delivering the Standard.
  • NHS England integrated care systems (ICSs) and health and social care providers must have a named senior lead who holds the responsibility for the implementation of the Standard.
  • NHS England and health and social care providers must ensure their IT Systems meet the minimum information and communication requirements to implement the Standard.
  • NHS England, ICSs and health and social care providers should involve people with communication needs to improve the implementation of the Standard.