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NHS told to make better use of hospital passports to support patients

Passports support patients with communication difficulties and help flag them to nurses but need to be used more consistently, says learning disabilities nurse
A learning disabilities nurse explains a hospital passport to a patient at a London hospital

Passports support patients with communication difficulties and help flag them to nurses but need to be used more consistently, says learning disabilities nurse

Hospital passports need to be more consistently used across the NHS to better support patients with communication difficulties, a learning disability nurse says.

Support for patients with communication needs and learning disabilities, as well as the nurses caring for them, is often ‘inconsistent’, according to RCN professional lead for learning disabilities Jonathan Beebee.

Coupled with the current system-wide pressure of patient backlogs and high staff vacancy rates it means patients often do not have their communication needs met.

A hospital passport, which contains vital information about a patient’s health condition, learning disability and communication needs, would help

Passports support patients with communication difficulties and help flag them to nurses but need to be used more consistently, says learning disabilities nurse

A learning disabilities nurse explains a hospital passport to a patient at a London hospital
Picture: Roy Mehta

Hospital passports need to be more consistently used across the NHS to better support patients with communication difficulties, a learning disability nurse says.

Support for patients with communication needs and learning disabilities, as well as the nurses caring for them, is often ‘inconsistent’, according to RCN professional lead for learning disabilities Jonathan Beebee.

Coupled with the current system-wide pressure of patient backlogs and high staff vacancy rates it means patients often do not have their communication needs met.

A hospital passport, which contains vital information about a patient’s health condition, learning disability and communication needs, would help address this, Mr Beebee told Nursing Standard. ‘There has got to be better consistency in how we are identifying people with communication needs, how they are getting flagged and how nurses are being pointed to that from the second that someone is admitted to the ward,’ he said.

Patients can download and fill out their own hospital passport but there is no standardised approach

‘In learning disability support, for example, we use health passports and they’ve become quite commonplace. There’s a standardised layout that’s used across the country and most social care providers prepare hospital passports for people with learning disabilities.’

Currently patients can download and fill out their own hospital passport, while some NHS organisations also signpost patients to the service. But there is no standardised approach to ensuring all patients with a communication need or learning disability are issued with a passport.

Mr Beebee says ensuring a standardised approach would improve patient experience and ultimately nurses’ relationship with patients.

His comments come as a survey that drew responses from 605 people with communication needs in England, including people who have sight or hearing loss or have mental health issues, found that two thirds said communication support had become worse since the start of the pandemic.

Some patients say their request for support to understand healthcare information was refused

Some 28% patients said they had been refused a request for support to understand healthcare information, according to an analysis by Healthwatch England, an independent watchdog for health and social care.

This includes requests for information being provided in formats such as Braille, British Sign Language and easy read.

One patient who was diagnosed with Bardet-Biedl syndrome, a disease that affects sight, at the age of 23 said information about her chemotherapy was provided in eight printed booklets despite requests for her health information to be sent via email so she could use audio software to read it.

‘I didn’t have any idea what the process would involve or what the side effects of the treatment would be, until a nurse went out of their way to email the information,’ she said.

NHS England said it has commissioned a review into the value of hospital passports which will look at the merits of a standardised approach.


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