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16 April 2020

SignHealth and online interpreting company InterpreterNow, have together launched ‘BSL Health Access’ which enables the provision of immediate, on demand access to British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters for communication with Deaf people in health settings free of charge during the current Coronavirus situation.

More than 70,000 Deaf people across the UK use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate as our first and preferred language, but we know from research that Deaf people’s health is already much poorer than hearing people’s. Deaf people often rely on asking family and friends to interpret for them but they can’t do that with the current social distancing and stay at home policies.

When people wear PPE it makes communication and lip-reading impossible and Deaf people are being left frustrated and isolated. We need to be able to communicate with doctors and nurses now. As a result, SignHealth have teamed up with InterpreterNow to provide a solution, to fill the gaps in BSL interpreter provision in health settings and provide on demand BSL interpreting when it’s really needed.

We are optimistic that NHS England or another government body will pay for this service but in the meantime SignHealth has agreed to pay for the service so that it can begin immediately. Deaf people cannot wait.

James Watson-O’Neill, SignHealth Chief Executive, says:

“I am proud that SignHealth has agreed to fund this service and look forward to it being funded by the public sector in due course. Deaf people must be able to access healthcare, whether to visit their GP, have a scan during pregnancy or be treated in intensive care for coronavirus.

We should all be able to talk to our doctors and nurses, and for them to talk to us.”

Andrew Dewey, Sign Language Interactions, says:

“I am delighted that as the leading Video BSL Interpreting provider to the Health Care sector, InterpreterNow is able to provide access to a video BSL/English interpreter, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week for the BSL community’s Health Care needs.

At a time when there is less access to face to face interpreting and with more healthcare services only being provided over the phone, the BSL community and health professionals can still use an interpreter by simply downloading the InterpreterNow App or by using a PC and clicking on the BSL Health Access website”

How to use BSL Health Access

A COVID-19 experience

A true story told by actors.

Due to the lack of accessible public health information in BSL, Deaf people may be unaware of some of the less common symptoms of COVID-19 such as loss of smell and taste. This happened to Pete*; he was extremely cold, and had lost his sense of smell and taste, but had no continuous cough or fever. Pete and his wife are Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users, so they called NHS 111 with the help of video relay interpreting support, InterpreterNow. NHS 111 suspected sepsis and sent an ambulance over to the house. However, the ambulance crew tried to call back – and Pete and his wife missed the call. This was the first communication barrier.

An hour later the ambulance arrived, the paramedics were wearing facemasks which meant Pete and his wife were unable to read their lips and couldn’t understand what they were saying. The couple had no choice but to ask their hearing child to act as a make-shift interpreter. They told Pete to go back to bed and call the doctor on Monday morning – which was in a couple of days.

Over the course of the weekend Pete’s condition deteriorated. He woke his wife up at 2am covered in sweat and having difficulty breathing. This time, she had no option but to call 999 through Text Relay. The Ambulance crew arrived with PPE covering their mouths and the son was woken up to interpret. It was a really distressing moment as his father was so ill and was taken to A&E alone due to social distancing rules. He was unable to communicate with any of the medical staff who were all wearing PPE. The hospital explained that they were unable to provide an interpreter, and they did not have the facilities to support type talk or remote video interpreting.

Pete tested positive for Coronavirus and was put on oxygen. His only means of communicating with doctors and nurses was with a pen and paper. His condition continued to deteriorate and the medical team explained he would need to go on a ventilator.

Scared and unsure what was going to happen to him, he wrote down “Will I die?” Much to his dismay the doctor wrote back saying “I don’t know”.

Luckily, Pete started to show signs of recovery and was diverted from being put on a ventilator. He was then discharged sooner than normal due to the hospital being a high-risk environment. However, his condition was still serious, and the doctor from the Coronavirus Hub sent him back to A&E. Not wanting to go through the same ordeal again, Pete and his wife paid for a remote video interpreter out of their own pockets. His experience in hospital the second time was much less frightening, as having someone there to keep him updated alleviated the communication barriers he was facing.

This case study highlights how important it is that Deaf people hospitalised with COVID-19 have fair access to communication support. In response to this pressing need, SignHealth have partnered with video relay interpreting service InterpreterNow to launch BSL Health Access. The on demand service provides access to BSL interpreters for communication with Deaf people in health settings during the Coronavirus pandemic, at no cost to the patient.

*Name changed for confidentiality.

Media Contacts:

SignHealth Communications Office:

Lucy Warnes, Director of Communications & Fundraising
Email – communications@signhealth.org.uk

InterpreterNow Communications Office:

Karan Hopper, Head of Marketing
Tel – 07920 443263
Email – karan@signlanguageinteractions.com

Notes to editors:

InterpreterNow is a service that enables deaf and hearing people to communicate with each-other. We deliver immediate access to online interpreting for deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users.

The service can be accessed through any laptop, PC/Mac or, Android or Apple tablet and smartphone via the InterpreterNow App.

InterpreterNow can be used in the workplace for face-to-face meetings, appointments, in shops or businesses and for telephone conversations – where deaf people can call a business or service and they can call them back.

All you need is a good Internet connection.

InterpreterNow is a social enterprise, dedicated to providing high quality services to improve the health and wellbeing of deaf people

For more information about InterpreterNow, visit interpreternow.co.uk and follow us on Facebook & Instagram – @interpreternow and Twitter – @interpreter_Now

SignHealth is the Deaf health charity led by Deaf people at all levels of the organisation. We are dedicated to making sure Deaf people get the same sort of access to healthcare and health information and we provide services to improve Deaf people’s health and wellbeing.

We have media-trained Deaf people who use British Sign Language to communicate, as well as access to qualified BSL interpreters, ready to be interviewed to support this statement.

For more information about SignHealth, visit signhealth.org.uk and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at: @SignHealth