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SignHealth were asked to brief Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Chair of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing All Party Parliamentary Group, on Deaf people’s access to NHS services. You can see the full debate here.

— Transcript — 

Miss Ryan, it’s our pleasure to see you chair this afternoon and I’m delighted to follow my honourable friend, the member for Newcastle-Upon-Tyne North. I congratulate her on securing this important debate and commend her, both for her role as a continued champion for Deaf and hard of hearing citizens. But also on her on her excellent opening speech.

I also want to thank the house authorities and technicians and the interpreters, the signers, Miss Ryan, for their ongoing efforts to make sure that our proceedings are accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing people. Speaking recently to senior members of staff I know that there are a number of initiatives which are being explored at the moment and I look forward to some really positive views very soon.

I am grateful to Action on Hearing Loss for their briefing, and to SignHealth also. In their material Action on Hearing Loss offer some top tips for improving access to GPs. For example, providing a range of different methods for people who are Deaf to contact surgeries, providing Deaf awareness training for practice staff and ensuring people who have hearing loss leave feedback about the quality of their care. They list troubling statistics about the experience of Deaf people at their local health centres.

57% of people who are Deaf said that they felt unclear about their health advice because a sign language interpreter was unavailable for their appointment. Only 1 in 10 Deaf people surveyed had been asked about their communication needs. And two fifths said that staff at their GPs surgery still called their name out when it was their turn to be seen. These numbers indicate a serious lack in the attendance to Deaf people’s needs.

Miss Ryan, you probably know that there is an Accessible Information Standard set out by NHS England. It is a clear approach for improving the accessibility of NHS and adult social care services for people with disabilities and sensory loss. I’m wondering in her wind up whether the minster might be able to comment on how we can see better enforcement of the Standard amongst practices in England.

Other recommendations from Action on Hearing Loss include introducing loop systems in all GP surgeries, BSL interpreters being available and allowing for extended time in appointments when they are needed. And that staff should have a good knowledge of communication needs for people who are Deaf or have hearing loss, and their medical records and files should be annotated appropriately. They quote from a  recent NHS England study which found that Deaf people’s health is poorer than that of the general population. Both probable diagnosis and under treatment of chronic conditions putting them at risk of presentable ill health.

Miss Ryan, when it comes to mental health the picture for Deaf people is not encouraging. SignHealth report that Deaf people experience significant difficulty in accessing mental health services. Deaf people are twice as likely to experience mental health problems, yet their access to help in British Sign Language is extremely poor or non-existent.  Deaf people continue to suffer disproportionately from mental ill health and sadly suicide is becoming more of a concern and SignHealth report that their have been several high profile Deaf men dying by suicide in the past few weeks.

Clearly the case of Deaf access of NHS services is a life or death issue, Miss Ryan, and needs to be treated with the utmost urgency. In conclusion, Miss Ryan, easily solvable problems continue to inhibit Deaf people from accessing their healthcare. When Deaf people want to see their GP, as my honourable friend has pointed out, many have to walk to their surgery to make an appointment as there is often no other way for them to do so. When Deaf people see their doctor 80% want to use sign language, but only 30% are given the chance to. And of the Deaf people surveyed, 70% who hadn’t been to their GP recently but had wanted to go, mainly hadn’t because there was no interpreter offered.

On behalf of Action on Hearing Loss and SignHealth, and as Chair of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing All Party Parliamentary Group, I would like to ask the minster some questions. And in doing so it’s the first chance I’ve had to welcome her to her place. I wish her well in all her endeavours.

The first question is – will the Department for Health and Social Security commit to monitoring performance against the Accessible Information Standard. Will the Department publish performance results. Will the Department commit to providing funding to help the Standard’s requirements and finally, will the Minister make representation to the Minister for Disabled people to look again at the steps that can be taken to improve the marker for BSL interpretation.

Miss Ryan, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today and to help represent the views of the Deaf community. I hope the minister can agree to their requests and that we can start to see a positive change in the physical and mental health of Deaf people in England and I look forward to the front bench responses, especially from the minister.

How healthy are Deaf people?

Sick Of It is SignHealth’s ground-breaking report uncovering the health disparity Deaf people face in the UK. Published in 2014, the report has influenced policy and changed practices in the NHS to improve communication and reduce barriers.

Report: Sick Of It