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Practice comment

''Staff lack vital skills in caring for visually impaired people''


I am a visually impaired person and my experience of being a patient has been frustrating

I have found staff often fail to understand the fundamental care needs I have as a result of my disability or even discuss what these care needs might be. As a result, I have felt, at times, deserted and bereft of any empathy.

Hospitals are not designed for visually impaired people. Every time I have had the misfortune of being admitted to hospital, staff have failed to understand the unique challenges that strange environments present to people in my position. I have noticed staff tend to lack essential skills and knowledge in how to care for me as a visually impaired person.

It feels at times as if being blind has little or no bearing on the care I receive. This is frustrating for me as a former nurse who is actively involved in educating hospital staff about the needs of those with visual impairment.

Healthcare staff are enthusiastic about new clinical methods of treatments and innovations, but these should not be to the detriment of vital communication skills. I need staff in hospital to see for me, to help me find my wash bag and clean clothes and to guide me around an unfamiliar environment that is fraught with danger.

So, when you are caring for me, please don’t push me from behind through doors and corridors - take my arm and guide me. Please don’t ask me to fill out a menu card when I am clearly unable to do so. I need you to tell me what my meal is, not just put it in front of me and walk away. I can’t read information leaflets so I need your help to understand what is happening to me.

As a health professional, it is important for you to take the time to find out and understand the individual needs of your patients. The old adage of one-size-fits-all does not work when you are caring for individuals with a visual impairment.

In my experience, patient individuality, as opposed to uniformity, is often overlooked especially in people who already have an underlying long-term condition, such as a visual impairment. This is frustrating as people with long-term conditions often know exactly what we need and will tell you if you take time to listen.

There are three words that should be the guiding principle in any clinical situation:

  • ASK the patient;
  • LISTEN to the patient;
  • ACT on what the patient tells you (Kopp, 2009).

We can help you to help us. But we need you to stop, take time and listen.

Klaus Kopp was formerly a senior lecturer in nursing.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • this is basic stuff, why are staff even allowed let loose on patients if they can't even help the ones who are blind.
    god help us that nursing standards have fallen so low.

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  • agree with comment above.

    I would have thought this was still part of taking a nursing history and discussing and assessing all a patient's needs on admission and then recording them and transmitting them to colleagues and the interdisciplinary team with further discussion as required during reports and handovers. At least this is what we always did in my place of work.

    I know nurses complain they are short staffed and pushed for time but with all the lengthy forms they have to fill in these must be fairly detailed and one would imagine such information would be included. Perhaps this is a sign that nobody has time to actually read them!

    On the other hand, is it really a lack of understanding and training in how to handle certain conditions?

    I have seen nurses and physios in training spending the day on the ward and outside in public places role playing to take on quite a range of different handicaps and with their peers learning to look after them and then switching roles which seems a good way of learning. In my training we were given lectures and literature from the RNIB and a British association which supports the deaf and dumb on sign language.

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  • it is not reassuring for patients to fall into the hands of nurses who do not know how to meet their basic needs. if a patient is being admitted with very specific or complex needs, where possible, some forewarning and preparation is helpful.

    nurses should be ready to cope a wide variety of challenges and if they do not have the experience or expertise at least have access to the information and more specialist support they may require.

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  • I can totally empathize with visually impaired people as I am the mother of a visually impaired child. I am a first year student nurse and visual impairement is more than just sight loss. Sight loss whether a gradual deterioration or a congenital problem from birth can be a life long problem and those affected will need to adapt their lives accordingly to live with their disibility. To be totally honest,until we are touched by a problem we really don't understand. My son was born with congenital glaucoma, a very rare condition in children. Initially it was a massive shock and his care will be lifelong. As a student nurse I urge people to think a little harder, how can a visually impaired person be helped?? Think... they can not see, explain every little thing that you do. Speak when you are in the same room,say hello at least. Use hand over hand techniques,it's really not that hard. if you think of it like this, if you spent a whole day blindfolded how would you like to be treated. Would you like to be guided by the arm and forewarned of obstacles in the way or left to bump into things. ??? Having a lifelong condition also has a huge impact on a persons mental stateThey are frustarted and angry. As nurses we should be eqipped with the skills and knowledge base to deal with any patient who walks throught the door.

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  • Anonymous | 30-Jun-2013 10:05 pm

    informative, helpful and interesting post.

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