The way deaf people access healthcare has been important to me for 10 years. It wasn’t just personal experience of seeing relatives get the rough end of the stick but also as a journalist working for Limping Chicken and working on some stories that would bring me to tears.
I always felt that both national campaigning organisations and local groups like CDA played a role in improving access for deaf people to healthcare.
National charities will have policy and campaign teams that look to effect changes to legislation through working with national government, but once that’s done, change may really only happen if local people get involved and assert their new-found rights.
Take the Accessible Information Standard as an example. This enshrines deaf people’s rights to information in British Sign Language when dealing with Health or Social Care into law. Did anything change in reality for deaf people once the standard was implemented? No.
Interpreters were being denied to deaf people for one reason or another on a regular basis. There may as well not have been a law change. It made no difference.
So we worked with Healthwatch to create a comprehensive report into accessible information and then were able to build relationships with managers at the North-West Anglia Foundation NHS Trust who went about implementing Sign Live live video interpreting in Peterborough and Huntingdon Hinchingbrook Hospitals.
When the report was launched, 50 deaf people attended with many taking the stage to tell their stories. NHS executives in attendance could see for the first time the strength of feeling about access to health care and some of the stories being told by speaker after speaker. And change followed.
Addenbrookes Hospital, part of the Cambridge University NHS Foundation Trust are also looking to implement some kind of video interpreting service when they recommission their interpreting services.
Again, in the spirit of collaboration with the local deaf community, they will be working with deaf people to get their views on the service. If they do implement on-demand interpreting services then that means all the hospitals on our patch will have video interpreting and deaf people will get a better service when they attend Accident and Emergency. Video interpreting doesn’t replace face-to-face interpreting which is often preferred by deaf patients but it can be a very effective and welcome tool in the right circumstances. Especially emergencies.
I don’t know if these changes in our hospitals would be made without a strong local deaf association actively seeking change.
We need change from GP surgeries too. Plenty of deaf BSL users don’t fully understand what the GP is telling them and the GP misunderstands what the patient is telling them back. No wonder deaf people put off going to the GP and have poorer health outcomes as a result. But what to do?
We’re looking at new ways to make it easier for deaf people to complain about the service they receive from their GP and that includes a smartphone app that can locate which GP surgery a deaf person is in and fire off an official complaint at the touch of a button. This would help build a realistic picture of how often deaf people can’t communicate with their GP and bring the issue into focus with a view to finding a better way of doing things.
Andrew Palmer is the Managing Director of CDA.