RNIB has been working with the Government to ensure the roll out of the vaccination programme is accessible for blind and partially sighted people.
We’ve met with Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi and have been engaging with governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There’s more to do, but here are six important ways we’ve made progress:
1. We’ve shared online RNIB training on sight loss with staff and volunteers working on the vaccine programme. People across all four nations working on the programme have had online access to RNIB training modules covering guiding, communication and the experience of living with sight loss. Nearly 900 vaccine staff and volunteers have taken up this training, provided thanks to the generosity of eCom, an e-learning provider.
2. We’ve shared “handy tips” on how to support blind and partially sighted people and how to make sure your vaccine centre is accessible, with staff and volunteers working on the programme; in England alone this has gone out to a mailing list of 53,000 people.
3. Patient Information Leaflets (PILs), produced by pharmaceutical companies, are now available in accessible formats. These detailed information leaflets are found usually in medicine boxes or are given when you get the vaccine, explaining potential side effects and so on. The legislation allowing the vaccines to be approved quickly inadvertently stopped pharmaceutical companies providing alternative formats of PILs in the normal way. Thanks to our meeting with Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi, we were able to get Ministerial approval for Datapharm to provide accessible formats in its electronic medicines compendium (emc) for healthcare professionals and others.
4. In Wales, the format of the invite letter has been changed to make it more accessible to screenreader users. Rather than alternating paragraphs between English and Welsh, the Welsh Government has acted on feedback, ensuring the English text and the Welsh text are blocked together.
5. Public health services around the UK have produced their patient information leaflets in accessible formats. We were first invited to feed into the development of the vaccine programme back in November; we reiterated the importance of the availability of all information in accessible formats.
Accessible formats of Public Health England (PHE)'s leaflets about vaccinations have been made available in braille, large print and online at GOV.UK, and we have supported PHE to produce audio versions.
Thanks to our joint influencing with Guide Dogs, accessible versions of leaflets have been sent to vaccination centres in Wales and Scotland, and are also available in Northern Ireland.
6. In Northern Ireland, the Minister of Health, Robin Swann MLA went on record to commend the work of RNIB and Guide Dogs in creating advice for staff administering the vaccine to blind and partially sighted people. The advice was endorsed by the Department of Health and the Public Health Agency, and issued to all local vaccination centres, GPs and pharmacy stores.
We know some people are experiencing challenges getting to – and from – the vaccine centre. We've been working with civil servants and speaking to the Royal College of GPs about how we can make sure GPs understand why some blind and partially sighted people might not be able to get to a vaccine centre several miles away, and how GPs can make additional arrangements, such as providing transport or home visits.
Although we have successfully ensured the invitation letter in Scotland is sent in Arial font size 14 and, in Wales, alternative formats of the invite letter are available on request with a large print helpline number on the top of the letter, these efforts are not enough, on their own, to ensure everyone gets the letter in a format they can read.
We are also continuing to work with the Government to make sure the vaccine programme (and other national NHS programmes like the shielding or screening programmes) are complying with the NHS Accessible Information Standard. All should be routinely and automatically sending people communications about their health in their preferred formats.
We’re currently engaging with the coronavirus vaccination team in Northern Ireland to resolve a web accessibility issue, introduced by the recent roll out of the vaccine to community pharmacies. We’re hopeful a solution will be introduced in the coming days.
Although we know the public health services are producing leaflets and advice in accessible formats, it’s unclear how many blind and partially sighted people are being offered these routinely. We would like people to be automatically given this information in a format that is accessible to them as they get the injection, and we will continue to push for this to happen.
If you want to let us know how your vaccine appointment went, and how accessible you found the process, we’d love to hear from you. Your experiences can be invaluable to help us feed back to the Government about how things are going. Email [email protected] to let us know.
Information leaflets are now available online for the Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. If you require the information in braille, large print or audio, please phone the accessibility line on 01372 371450. There may be an answerphone operating during periods of high demand. Please note this number is only for use for these coronavirus vaccine medicines; to get any other medicine information in alternative formats, please call 0800 198 5000.