Visually impaired woman reaches out-of-court agreement in shielding case

A visually impaired woman who took legal action after alleging the Government failed to provide her with accessible shielding information during the pandemic has reached an out-of-court agreement, her lawyers said.

Sarah Leadbetter (pictured), 45, of Narborough, Leicestershire, who is registered blind, began a claim against Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

She was arguing that a failure to provide accessible correspondence regarding shielding to blind or sight-impaired people was a breach of duty under the 2010 Equality Act 2010, and challenged a “practice” of sending hard copy letters to people who were shielding, without considering their communication needs.

A judge had been due to oversee a hearing this week.

Lawyers say she has “secured fundamental promises of changes to Government pandemic communications to people with communication needs”.

Solicitor Kate Egerton, who represents Ms Leadbetter and is based at law firm Leigh Day, said she was pleased the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had agreed to reconsider how it provided information to disabled people who are shielding.

She added: “Sarah’s case raised important issues about the Accessible Information Standard which requires health bodies to identify, record and then act on communication needs, and there is no greater time to ensure this is implemented than in a global pandemic.”

Ms Leadbetter said she was very happy that the DHSC had “agreed to change its practices”, and added: “It has been a long battle for me to get important information about my health in accordance with my communication needs and I hope these changes will mean that I, and other disabled people, will now start getting information in an accessible format.”

A DHSC spokesman said: “We are doing everything we can to protect the most vulnerable in our society. The Government has supported disabled people throughout this pandemic and we continue to assess what further support can be offered, including options for providing accessible shielding information to patients directly.

“It is vital that people have access to the right materials, and we’ve made a range of public health information, including guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable, available in a variety of formats including easy read, British sign language, audio and braille.

“Letters summarising shielding advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable are also available in a number of formats and languages, and are also sent electronically by email where an individual has registered an email address with their GP practice.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA.