Poor access to healthcare is a shocking but common experience for Deaf people, and we are fighting to change that.
We are the Deaf health charity SignHealth, and in early 2014 we launched SICK OF IT, the first large scale report into the health of Deaf people.
The majority of our service users come from the Deaf community; people who have grown up with Deaf culture using British Sign Language as their first language (as opposed to the term ‘deaf’ with a small d which people many use to define hearing loss due to a medical condition or old age).
Our research shows that despite leading a healthy lifestyle, and smoking and drinking less than the hearing population, Deaf people are four times as likely to be on the verge of diabetes. They are also twice as likely to have high blood pressure without knowing about it, a major cause of heart attacks and strokes.
This is simply because of communication barriers and a lack of basic health information in British Sign Language.
To put it into perspective:
This results in unintentional neglect, shortened lives and £30million of wasted money.
Imagine how you would feel if every time you tried to book a doctor’s appointment you could ONLY do it by actually going into the surgery. Then when you arrived the receptionist couldn’t understand you.
How would you feel if you couldn’t tell your doctor what your symptoms were, and then you were given tablets but had no idea why? There’s no way of finding out because everyone speaks a language you don’t understand.
This is the situation Deaf people encounter everyday, and we are campaigning for that to change. We want all medical professionals to offer personalised communication support for D/deaf patients, whether that’s a BSL interpreter, lip speaker or note taker.
Simple changes such as booking appointments by text message, double-length appointments and visual message boards in waiting rooms would all reduce the negative associations Deaf patients have towards the NHS.
If these simple changes are made Deaf patients will have better healthcare experiences, and medical professionals will make faster, more informed diagnoses – saving time, money and lives.
We pride ourselves on the support we offer Deaf people across the country. We are the only charity to provide counselling and therapy in British Sign Language via our BSLHealthyMinds service. Our domestic abuse projects DeafHope and YoungDeafHope work in BSL too.
If a patient with mental health issues needs structured day-to-day support, they can receive life changing intervention at one of our CQC registered BSL residential homes. They may also benefit from our outreach or advocacy services, both of which can offer assistance in healthcare settings.
And finally, amongst continued campaigning and involvement with the Deaf community, our charity offers an online relay service called InterpreterNow(originally SignTranslate). Free to Deaf patients in a medical setting, it allows communication via an online interpreter when a face to face interpreter isn’t available.