Andy Palmer: With SignHealth’s research, Deaf people can campaign for better healthcare. Will anyone listen?

Posted on December 1, 2014



Sign Health, the charity that focuses improving health outcomes for deaf people that use sign language, came along to the Cambridgeshire Deaf Association last week to talk about their Sick Of It report’s national tour. Sick-Of-It-logo-300x300

For those who don’t know, the Sick Of It report is the first piece of commissioned research in the world that focuses on health outcomes for deaf people and its findings make shocking reading.

In Britain today, despite  smoking less cigarettes, drinking alcohol to the same levels and eating a similar diet as hearing people as well as being just as active, deaf people are more likely to be overweight, twice as likely to suffer from high blood pressure and four times more likely to be on the verge of diabetes.

I invited representatives from Healthwatch, the Clinical Commissioning Group and Voiceability to watch the presentation and the discussion that followed.

Despite their undoubted experience in the field of healthcare, those representatives were shocked to learn about the higher risks to health that deaf people face and the catastrophic outcomes.

The truth is that you’ll probably die younger if you’re deaf because of failures in communication or not being able to book interpreters to make a GP appointment.

In the 21st century, with advances in technology that can enable e-booking of appointments, systems that can recgonise when a patient needs an interpreter booked and online interpreting services for emergencies, there seems to be no more room for excuses. The dire health consequences for deaf people simply cannot continue.

nhs-bedsThat message seemed to get through to the guests from Healthwatch and the CCG at Cambridge last week but its a message that needs to get to more people in positions of power in our regionalised and decentralised health system.

It will take time and hundreds of presentations by Sign Health. It will take hundreds more meetings across the UK as campaigners and representatives of deaf people press the case.

Now armed with the Sick Of It report, deaf people have the evidence they need to push for better services and local organisations like the Cambridgeshire Deaf Associations are in a position to lead that charge for their members. The question is, will anyone listen?

The £30m figure quoted in the Sick of It report as the annual cost to the NHS of poorer deaf health may seems like a lot of money and worth saving, but my fear is that the number is just too small.

The overall NHS England Budget is £95 billion – who cares about the odd £30 million here or there?

Too often additional cost, not savings, are associated with the effective care of deaf people. The cost of interpreters, the cost of video relay, the cost of new visual patient information systems, the cost of making a new BSL video every time some new health information comes out. This battle won’t be won on a cost argument.

It’s not about money in the end. This is about our familes. This is about our friends. This is about having equality of access to one of the finest health systems in the world – because without that equality, for some deaf people, our treasured NHS may as well not exist. That’s why this is so important.

If you would like Sign Health to come to your deaf club or association click here.

Andy Palmer is the hearing father of a Deaf son, and is also a child of Deaf parents. He is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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