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My Health, My Business: blind and partially sighted people have a right to read their own health information

In Northern Ireland, there are 31,000 people who are blind or partially sighted and this is set to rise as the population ages.

Research shows that the majority of blind and partially sighted people cannot read the health information they are given (RNIB, 2009).

We each have the right to manage our health affairs with the same level of confidentiality. RNIB is concerned that the health information rights of people who are blind or partially sighted are being denied.

The survey of people with sight loss found that:

  • 72% cannot read personal health information given to them by their GP
  • 65% had not heard of any legislation or policies designed to protect them from discrimination in receiving health information
  • 22% said they had missed an appointment due to information being sent in an inaccessible format.

Of those healthcare professionals who took part in the survey:

  • 73% reported that either their organisation did not have a clear, accessible health information policy or were unaware if one existed
  • 71% reported a lack of training in meeting accessible health information needs
  • 28% wrongly believed people prefer to receive information relayed to them by others, such as relatives or carers.

Inaccessible health information can have serious consequences:

  • Patient choice is central to the health service agenda, yet inaccessible information is a barrier to patient choice
  • Health information is too often delivered verbally and so the responsibility is shifted to the patient to remember information accurately
  • Patient safety is compromised if, for example, medication is taken incorrectly
  • Loss of independence as people are forced to rely on friends, family and carers to read information to them
  • Patient privacy is compromised
  • Blind and partially sighted people are missing important medical appointments.

In July 2016, the NHS Accessible Information Standard came into force in England. It mandates that all healthcare providers must provide information in a format that their patients can read.

RNIB is calling for the introduction of such a standard in Northern Ireland to ensure a consistent and specific approach to identifying, recording, flagging and sharing accessible information needs.

NHS England has taken a major step forward in trying to resolve this and it is time for the same to happen in Northern Ireland.

To learn more about the campaign and how to get involved contact:

RNIB Northern Ireland Campaigns team on 028 9032 9373 or email



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