Hearing doctors urgently needed

09 June 2015

For some deaf people[1], visiting a local GP or hospital remains as much of a challenge now as it did 20 years ago. Deaf people’s health is poorer than the general population and they are more at risk of preventable ill-health.[2] They are twice as likely to have high blood pressure, four times more likely to develop diabetes and generally have reduced life expectancy.[3] The London Assembly Health Committee report ‘Access to health services for deaf people’ is calling for urgent action to eliminate the disadvantages deaf people still face.[4] Merfyn Williams, a deaf user of the health service, said: “Interaction with health services can be very stressful for deaf people since medical and administrative personnel are often unaware of the need for clear communication. Simple things like not being faced when spoken to or alerted when it’s your time to see the doctor are really frustrating. I want the health services to be aware of these kinds of issues with all patients as an integral part of good customer care and to understand the importance of empowering patients to choose any communication access needs they may require.“ Launching the report today at City Hall, Andrew Boff AM, Deputy Chair of the Health Committee, who led the investigation, said; “Making an appointment with your local GP is difficult enough - it’s even harder for deaf people. Deaf people face a number of issues with the health service, from not understanding what doctors are saying to them, being ignored when spoken to through an interpreter, and a lack of privacy when discussing private health problems.” It’s shocking that deaf people are more likely to suffer ill health than the hearing population, just because it’s more difficult for them to access the health service. This is entirely avoidable and needs to be addressed now. Deaf people have waited long enough for somebody to listen to them.” The report includes a number of recommendations, including:

Urgently needed data on hearing disability should be routinely collected and compiled by NHS England London. A lack of data makes it difficult for health services to plan and provide services that meet the needs of deaf patients.

Direct links to complaints processes, including an ‘easy read’ format, which should be clearly visible on GP surgery and NHS Trust websites.

A universal standard for British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting should be provided in GP surgeries and hospitals.

Notes for Editors:

The term ‘deaf people’ is used to refer to the deaf population as a whole, including those with mild, through to severe hearing loss and profoundly deaf individuals (those who would describe themselves as culturally Deaf and whose first language is BSL).

'The current health of the signing Deaf community in the UK compared with general population: a cross-sectional study', BMJ, January 2015.

'Sick of it', SignHealth, March 2014.

Read the report ‘Access to health services for deaf people’ (attached below).

Andrew Boff AM, Deputy Chair of the Health Committee is available for interview. See contact details below.

London Assembly Health Committee.

As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.

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