New NHS standard for your blind and partially sighted patients

GP talking to elderly patientThe Accessible Information Standard ensures that disabled patients receive information in formats that they can understand and receive appropriate support to help them to communicate.

The new NHS Accessible Information Standard (SCCI 1605) comes into force this July. It mandates that:

  • By 1 April 2016, GP services and other healthcare providers identify and record the communication and information needs of patients with sight impairments.
  • By 31 July 2016, systems are in place and healthcare services provide information in a format that their patients can read.

The NHS England website has eLearning tools and full standards documentation on the information standard.

Why the standard is so important

Dr Ralph Sullivan (Clinical Lead for Patient Online Access at the RCGP) highlights the importance of accessible information for patients with sight loss, including those registered blind and partially sighted:

“Our patients rely on good communication which for most people is achieved through printed information, but for anyone with sight difficulties, printed information is often inaccessible. It needs to be in a larger font or in an alternative format such as by email, SMS text, audio on CD or in some cases in braille. Around 1 in 180 people are registered blind or partially sighted, so this is a niche audience when compared to the total patient population, but for each individual facing a piece of paper with important health information on it, the need for accessibility is high. Last year 86% of blind and partially sighted people said they found it difficult or impossible to read medication information, according to RNIB's MyVoice survey 2015.”

What GPs and Practice Managers can do

Dr Sullivan explains:

“It is possible to code individual's accessible information needs in our GP computer systems. We can also take steps to identify patients who have specific information preferences, enabling us to communicate effectively, from computer searches of codes that imply visual impairment, or taking every opportunity to ask your patients if they can read standard print or not, whenever you suspect they might have a significant sight loss.”


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How many people does the new standard apply to?

  • In a patient index of 12,000 on average 72 will be registered blind or partially sighted and 600 will have uncorrectable sight loss.
  • One in 30 people have uncorrectable sight loss and need printed information in at least 12 -14 point also called 'clear print'.



  • One in 180 arregistered with visual impairment and need information in an alternative format such as large print (18 point upwards), audio format, and braille
  • Email and SMS text communication is increasingly used by blind and partially sighted people who have a smartphone, tablet or computer equipped with assistive technology.


Patient perspective

Linda Wilson is based in Cumbria. She is registered blind and shares her experience of asking her GP service for information by email. Making her request at a Patient Participation Group meeting (PPG) she said:

“Their response, at first, was quite negative, telling me that this wouldn’t be possible… They came to the next meeting and explained they would be reluctant to offer my communications via email from a security and confidentiality point of view but that they would still work on it. In the meantime, they changed their computer systems which appears to be able to transfer information and allow ‘Alerts’ on a patient’s record. The following week, I attended another PPG meeting and the Practice Manager said that they had now got an email account which was 100% secure and confidential and this is how they will correspond with me. I was delighted with this.”

You can read Linda’s full story on her blog.

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