Patients with physical and learning disabilities in Suffolk are not receiving the support they need from healthcare services, according to a survey conducted by a watchdog.

The report by Healthwatch Suffolk found only half of respondents ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ had the help they needed, while 32% said they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ received help.

People with a range of disabilities were consulted, including communication difficulties, sight loss, deaf or hard of hearing, mental health conditions and learning disabilities.

Of particular concern were the findings among those who had problems communicating, as only 29% could understand the information they were provided about their healthcare, compared with 39% of all respondents in Suffolk.

Some 43% of patients with communication issues reported that they had been refused a request for support to understand information, while the equivalent figure for all disabilities in Suffolk was just 29%.

Wendy Herber, independent chair of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “The importance of accessible support for those who need it should not be underestimated by services.

“We know that if people cannot get information about their healthcare they understand, it can have an impact on their mental or physical health and it can lead to them missing appointments or important information about their care.

“Our findings are a stark reminder that some of the most vulnerable people in our society are still excluded from access to healthcare because they need accessible information and support. This is their right, protected in law and is not a ‘nice to have’ but an urgent need.”

The survey also found staff attitudes affected people’s ability to ask for support, while 59% of all respondents had difficulty accessing GP services.

Wendy added that services in Suffolk were trying to make it easier for patients to access information, but awareness of responsibilities was low outside major healthcare providers and the findings should be raised across all care providers to ensure everyone had equal access to care.