Andy Palmer: Can we really crack the deaf health problem?

Posted on July 27, 2015

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Andy Palmer - Deputy Editor

The June sun blazed outside the busy meeting room where I was holding Peterborough’s first ever deaf health forum. Inside, Peterborough’s deaf people had the opportunity to tell it like it is to NHS executives Sue Last and Ian Weller.

Person after person rose to their feet to talk about their experiences. For two hours, avoidable problem followed unnecessary crisis followed needless humiliation. It could have gone on and on. See the transcript here.

Interpreted into English and flashed on the screen in subtitles, our guests from the local clinical commissioning group learned just how dire the health service can be for deaf people.

These are real people’s stories. This really is life or death. Yes, that man said he didn’t know what medication to take. Yes, he didn’t have an interpreter at the GP for ten years. Yes, this just got real.

At the beginning of the meeting, I gave a brief introduction to healthcare, deaf people and the disastrous outcomes. Deaf people are likelier to die younger, twice as likely to have high blood pressure, four times more likely to be diabetic, more likely to be obese, more likely to suffer strokes or heart disease. Something has to be done. That’s why we were there.

Our colleagues from the NHS were shocked. This wasn’t on their radar. All these grievances aired and it was the first they’d heard of it. Deaf people don’t complain do they? All these issues and not even a statistic. Not even a starting point.

We’re at the beginning of a process here in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. That meeting was the first step. There will be more opportunities for feedback and more forums. The next is in January when the NHS executives will report back on any measures they’ve taken to address the problems that were clearly and sometimes emotionally conveyed.

Meanwhile, the horror stories for deaf patients go on and on. In the past two weeks there have been four occasions where deaf patients have had serious procedures cancelled in our NHS area.

On one occasion, the patient had already starved himself overnight and taken the nasty pre-procedural medication. He found himself going home after hours and hours in the waiting room with no one able to say what was going to happen to him. He’s used to it.

That was just this week and that’s only what I found out about. It goes on and on.

I can understand why sign language users may be pessimistic about the likelihood of change or cynical about an NHS manager’s real intentions. These kind of problems have been going on for years and years and nobody seems to pay attention or nothing makes any difference.

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough we’ve made a start. I’ll keep you posted.

Andy Palmer is the hearing father of a Deaf son, and is also a child of Deaf parents. He is Managing Director of the Cambridgeshire Deaf Association, runs Peterborough United’s deaf football teams and 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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