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National Voices held an online conference on Wednesday 28 June to discuss priorities for the future of primary care for people living with health conditions and disability. Primary care services are the first port of call for when we feel unwell. Yet, we see examples where people who have not had their communication needs met.

Our Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Abigail Gorman, presented at the conference. She highlighted what SignHealth is doing to make sure deaf people can access health care services in British Sign Language (BSL). Our review of NHS’ Accessible Information Standard (AIS) in 2021 told us that 81 per cent of deaf people reported their communication need was unmet at their appointment.  Shockingly, 1 in 3 health care providers were unaware or unsure of the AIS.

At the conference

Abigail shared how SignHealth supported our community during the pandemic with a free on-demand 24/7 remote BSL interpreting service called BSL Health Access. This allowed deaf people to access medical services over the phone, free of charge. We invested £800,000 between March 2020 to November 2020, then NHS covered the cost from December 2020 to March 2021. Unfortunately, NHS has not committed any further funding from 1 April 2021 onwards, effectively closing the BSL Health Access service.

Abigail explained the importance for us being given choice and for our communication preferences to be personalised. She highlighted that we still do not have full access to our health care. This has to change.

On the same day, National Voices launched a new report, Accessible and inclusive communication within primary care: What matters to people with diverse communication needs. This report proposed ten actions for NHS England to work on. We are looking forwards to supporting National Voices to work closely with NHS England.

For media enquires or more information about health equity campaign, please contact Philippa Wynne, Head of Communications, communications@signhealth.org.uk.