A new report launched today by community interest company Sign Lingual UK and commissioned by consumer champion Healthwatch Oxfordshire highlights a lack of access to health and care services for the Deaf community in Oxfordshire.
The Sign Lingual report reveals that current health provision and services in Oxfordshire are not meeting the needs of Deaf people, leaving members of this community at a disadvantage compared to hearing patients living within the county.
Deaf respondents to the survey reported feeling “uncomfortable”, “oppressed” and “discriminated against” when attending healthcare appointments.
They also described experiencing life-threatening illnesses, as well as having procedures including the taking of blood and even undergoing surgery, without knowing what was involved.
The report warns that a lack of patient consent and understanding raises potential serious litigation issues for the NHS.
Mike Ballinger, Director & BSL/English Interpreter for Sign Lingual UK explains:
“By putting Deaf people at such a disadvantage it is not only distressing to the patients themselves, but there is a significant monetary cost too due to missed and delayed appointments caused by the absence of interpreters. There are also potential risks of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, which could lead to an increase in the risk of legal action being taken against Oxfordshire healthcare providers. Issues with communication and interpreters can mean that Deaf people are unable to be fully involved in decisions about their care.”
Many of the issues reported were caused by a lack of access to British Sign Language interpreters for appointments and consultations. The report outlines ten key recommendations for improving access to health care for Deaf people:
1. A review of how Deaf patients book appointments and how appointments are confirmed, making sure a range of options are available as opposed to the current phone-based system. Preferred communication methods for Deaf people can vary and could be via email, text, Typetalk, facsimile, face to face appointments or via an online remote BSL/English interpreting service. All of these should be made available to Deaf people for both regular and emergency appointments.
2. Ensuring a better understanding amongst healthcare professionals about responsibility for booking interpreters and how these bookings can be made. This is particularly crucial in medical emergencies.
3. Provide Deaf Awareness training for all NHS frontline staff (including GP Surgeries, Dental practices and across all Primary and Secondary Healthcare services) throughout Oxfordshire who have regular contact with the public and Deaf people.
4. All interpreters engaged to undertake work within healthcare should meet the standards required by The National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD).
5. A leaflet and/or an online intranet information sheet should be available to all healthcare staff as both a reminder of their responsibilities to Deaf patients and an explanation of how to book BSL/English interpreters.
6. Devise a system whereby healthcare providers are made aware of the preferred language or method of communication of their Deaf patients.
7. Review the accessibility of standard letters and information leaflets that are sent out by local healthcare providers, considering whether or not it would be appropriate to have these letters and information leaflets translated into British Sign Language to ensure that Deaf people can access them.
8. Where they are not currently installed, visual indicators should be established to show when a patient’s name has been called for an appointment in waiting rooms and reception areas. Alternatively a system should be established to inform the health professional that the patient is profoundly Deaf and will need to be informed appropriately when it is their turn to see the health professional.
9. Display posters in GP surgeries and hospital departments to remind staff to book a BSL/English interpreter for patients whose first language is that of British Sign Language.
10. Consider how services can be made accessible for Deaf people when putting contracts out for tendering or renewal of healthcare services.
Healthwatch Oxfordshire is keen to consult with service commissioners and providers in the county on how to improve local services for Deaf people.
Jean Nunn-Price, Chair of Healthwatch Oxfordshire said: “As a consumer champion, Healthwatch Oxfordshire listens to local communities’ experiences of the county’s health and social services. Thanks to this survey by Sign Lingual UK, we now have a better understanding of the needs of the Deaf community in Oxfordshire. Our intention is to work with service commissioners and providers to improve provision for users and support the implementation of the report’s recommendations where possible.”
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