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RNIB Cymru pushes for safe use of emergency coronavirus legislation

Coronavirus presents one of the greatest challenges in a generation.

We have all experienced some form of disruption in recent weeks and, while we are reportedly over the peak, it will likely be some time before things return to normal. 

But where the impact of the pandemic is being felt hardest is our health and social care sectors. To help these vital services cope with the challenges of coronavirus, the Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed into UK law on 25 March. 

Among the many changes brought about by this act, Welsh Local Authorities are now able to pause some of its duties relating to adult social services, in the event where the workforce was depleted due to the virus.

Raising the issues affecting people with sight loss

RNIB Cymru, along with other charities and organisations were asked to help Welsh Government to draft the guidance for local authorities and to make sure that if these unprecedented measures had to be used, they could be done so in the safest way possible. 

We used this opportunity to raise our concerns about what this could potentially mean for blind and partially sighted people who rely on care and support services in order to maintain personal wellbeing, independence, and to live safely.

The government published its final guidance on 30 April, and we are pleased to say that a number of changes were made in response to our recommendations. 

  • Firstly, we called for the updated guidance to make clear that local authorities must continue to update and maintain their registers of people with sight-impairment. This is an important duty and requires councils to identify and make contact with those who have lost sight.  
  • Secondly, we made clear that any decision or change of service must be communicated to the person affected in a way that works for them. We argued that it is not acceptable that people with sight loss often have to rely on others to read what may be personal and sensitive information to them, so all communication must be in an accessible format that they can use personally.

    As a result, the new guidance now makes it clear that local authorities must account for specific conditions and communication needs, such as sight loss, when they communicate in the future. 
  • Lastly, the guidance now explicitly states that the fundamental principles of social care remain unchanged. This means preventative services which reduce the need for further care, such as vision rehabilitation, continue to remain a priority. 

Whilst we are pleased with these changes, RNIB Cymru is continuing to work with Welsh Government to influence policy and make sure the needs of people with sight loss are considered during this unprecedented time.