14 Mar 2024, 10:30 a.m.

Two South West Hospital Trusts have joined up with the regional Sight Loss Council to develop the first NHS audio guides for blind and visually impaired people. The new tools will help improve accessibility across hospitals in Gloucester, Cheltenham and Bristol.

Navigating a busy hospital environment can be challenging for anyone, but for those who are blind and visually impaired, it can be particularly difficult. Lack of accessibility can create anxiety, restrict independence, and impact on access to some health services.

In addition, over the last few years, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital and Cheltenham General Hospital have undergone significant transformation and improvement works, and these changes do add further challenges for people.

To ensure our hospitals remain as accessible as possible for all our patients and visitors we are delighted to have partnered with Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council to coproduce a series of audio guides.

The 12 new guides will allow people to access the Emergency Departments on both hospital sites, as well as Ophthalmology and Eye Screening services. They have been created using Artificial Intelligence voice-over, enabling rapid development and testing and significantly reducing costs.

The guides are available on the hospital website and can be accessed from smartphones and tablets, and is believed to be the one of the first NHS navigation audio tools ever developed.

The audio guides provide clear, step-by-step instructions, allowing blind and visually impaired people to navigate hospitals independently and with confidence, ensuring that are able to find their way to appointments and services and reducing anxiety.

It is hoped that further collaboration with the Sight Loss Council and other partners will open up the potential for wider development of more audio guides across other health services.

We are extremely grateful to the Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council for their support in bringing this important project to life.

Matt Holdaway, Chief Nurse and Director of Quality

Matt continues "We know that hospitals can be difficult for many of us to find our way around, and we hope that these new guides will make it easier and reduce the anxiety for people who are blind or visually impaired.

We continue to improve the accessibility of our services, and these innovations, aided by low-cost, high-quality AI technology, mean we can explore different approaches and far more quickly. We hope to expand on this work further in the coming months.”

We very much applaud Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust for working with us to develop the audio guides. Going to a hospital is stressful enough for anyone.

Alun Davies, Gloucestershire Sight Loss Council

Alun continues "When you have a visual impairment, it is potentially much more of a concern. These guides will hopefully take some of the worries away by helping people who are blind or partially sighted orientate themselves before they visit and give them some directions when they get there.

The Sight Loss Councils are working with the Trust on other issues such as the Accessible Information Standard and Training of visual impairment awareness and the Trust is firmly committed to improving the experience of their blind and partially sighted users and visitors”