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Lancashire man accuses NHS of discrimination

A blind man from Clitheroe is taking legal action against East Lancashire Hospitals Trust after it repeatedly failed to send him communication in a format that he could read.

Michael Tupper, aged 72, lives alone and is registered severely sight impaired. He is unable to read standard print and requires correspondence to be delivered in 18pt font, which he reads with a magnifier. Despite this, the Trust – including its ophthalmology department – routinely sends him inaccessible letters and leaflets – with Mr Tupper receiving 14 in the last year alone.

All hospital trusts, including East Lancashire Hospitals Trust, should adhere to the Equality Act 2010. They have also been required to follow the Accessible Information Standard since 2016. This standard ensures that people with a disability, impairment or sensory loss are provided with information they can easily read or understand.

Amongst the correspondence Mr Tupper has been unable to read are important appointment details, questionnaires and confidential health information that he has occasionally needed to have a neighbour read for him.

He said: “I’m totally frustrated and angered by the whole situation. I tell staff at the hospitals again and again that I need large print, and I know it’s recorded on my file, but they keep sending me small print that I can’t read. It’s been going on for years.

“With normal print, the words are too small and too close together. The most difficult things are contact numbers, dates and times – which are normally very important. I will try and read it, but it takes so long with a small hand-held magnifier – it can take me hours, and I’m worried that I could misread it and miss an appointment.

“For a while I was sent text messages that told me to log into an online portal, but I couldn’t do that because I don’t have a smart phone. Very occasionally I’m sent things that are standard print that’ve been blown up on to A3 – but I still can’t read it properly because it’s too awkward to use with my magnifier. It’s just impossible.”

In 2015, Mr Tupper had assisted in East Lancashire Hospitals Trust’s pilot scheme ahead of the Accessible Information Standard coming into effect and has repeatedly advised staff that he is unable to read standard print. As a last resort, he is now working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to take legal action.

He said: “I’ve had enough of asking and asking with no change. And I know there’s two million people out there with sight loss that might be having the same problem. I just want hospitals to take this seriously and do what they legally required to do. I don’t want anyone to miss their appointment and lose what sight they have left because they couldn’t read a letter from a hospital.”

Samantha Fothergill, Legal Advisor at RNIB, said: “As per the Accessible Information Standard and Equality Act, all health trusts have a legal duty to provide communication in a format that is accessible to their patients. The treatment that Michael has received is unacceptable and, in our view, unlawful, but unfortunately it is not uncommon.

“We often hear from people across the UK who tell us that their local NHS trust or health board has not complied with the law and sent important information in a way that is unreadable to the patient.

“We have already tried to communicate with East Lancashire Hospitals Trust about this issue on behalf of Mr Tupper without success. We are now hoping that this case will force real change and ensure that he can read the important health information sent to him by his doctors.”

RNIB is encouraging others who are experiencing similar issues to come forward and report inaccessibility to its Sight Loss Advice Service on 0303 123 9999.

Notes to editors

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About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.

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