BBC See Hear Producer William Mager says access to healthcare is a burden on deaf people

Posted on April 9, 2014

Today’s edition of See Hear, the BBC’s programme for deaf and hard of hearing people, focuses on one of the biggest issues for deaf people today: access to healthcare.  With a seemingly never-ending stream of shocking stories revealing how deaf people are not receiving equal treatment in the NHS; deaf people’s access to healthcare has never been further up the agenda. This year has already seen coverage of the issue in the national press and on radio with two damning official reports being written on the subject. Today, See Hear investigates.

“This is a topic which has been in and out of the news in recent months, and The Limping Chicken has been at the forefront of this coverage in many ways.” Said William Mager, Series Producer of See Hear.

“It was the moving story about Matt Dixon interpreting for his deaf father at a hospital appointment when he told him he would die of cancer that started bringing the issue to wider attention.”

Healthwatch York did a report into health and social care for deaf people in that area and it owed a lot to Matt’s story. We’ve also seen SignHealth’s recent report on deaf people’s general lack of health due to lack of access. Everything is pointing towards a huge issue that needs to be highlighted and subsequently resolved.”

Matt Dixon was forced into a position of having to tell his own father that his cancer was terminal. While Matt’s story is rare, it is certainly not unique and deaf people across the country routinely face potentially dangerous communication barriers.

“For many of us, going to hospital in the first place can be an unpleasant experience.” William continued.

“When deaf people pay the additional penalty of not knowing whether interpreter support will be provided or whether they’re going to understand the doctor at all, that’s a burden which shouldn’t have to be shouldered.”

“As SignHealth’s report tells us, the long term impact of that is that deaf people are more reluctant to go to the doctor about health issues, which in turn results in poor overall health and potentially severe illnesses going undiagnosed. That’s an infringement of basic human rights, and shouldn’t be happening.”

The off-putting and complex bureaucracy of NHS complaint processes means that deaf people often don’t flag-up when things go wrong. On Monday, our contributing Editor Emily Howlett demonstrated what complaining can achieve but despite consistent campaigning by health-related deaf charities, William finds deaf people are still not exercising their rights.

“I was surprised to find that so few deaf people actually complain to the right people about their negative experiences.” He said.

“Finding the right contact for your hospital or local health authority and giving feedback about your experience can actually make a difference. Don’t assume that nothing you do or say will have an effect. You may be surprised how willing people are to adapt and make things better.”

Matt dixon see hearThis week’s See Hear follows hot on the heels of a debate in the House of Lords but so far, there appears to be no legislative changes planned to do anything about healthcare providers who fall short of their obligations to deaf patients. As a result, deaf people are more likely to avoid addressing suspected health problems and suffer serious consequences as a result.

“The House of Lords has taken notice of the issues deaf people face in healthcare and that’s a positive. I think additional reform to the Equality Act could eliminate further doubt about the responsibilities of healthcare providers or perhaps the British Deaf Association’s proposed BSL Act, separate from the Equality Act, is required to give deaf people more rights to equal healthcare provision.”

“I hope that in the future deaf patients aren’t deterred from going to hospital or to their doctor as a result of bad practice. There are lots of amazing examples of good practice shown by several hospitals and doctors surgeries out there – it feels like a shame that we always have to highlight the negatives.”

See Hear is on BBC2 today at 10.30am and is repeated at 12.20am tonight. You can also watch it shortly after broadcast on BBC iPlayer here.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy also volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

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