“It’s terrible that such a large part of the population is excluded from receiving the benefits of our health service that most of us take for granted.” – Andrew Boff AM
Getting deaf access to health on the agenda has been a long, hard fought battle. A question raised during the London Assembly’s 2013’s People’s Question Time from the BDA, led to a debate – why were deaf people’s health needs being ignored? In response, a seminar on Access to Health Services for deaf people was organised by the London Assembly Health Committee at City Hall in October 2014 to look at how the system was failing its deaf patients. Now, eight months later, a report has been launched that says it’s time for change.
What did the report say?
The London Assembly Health Committee report Access to health services for deaf people is calling for urgent action to eliminate the disadvantages deaf people still face when accessing the health service.
Launched on 9 June 2015, the report calls for:
• Urgently needed data on hearing disability should be routinely collected and compiled by NHS England London. Estimates for London’s deaf population range as widely as 25,000 to one million and a lack of data makes it difficult for health services to plan and provide services that meet the needs of deaf patients.
• Local Clinical Commissioning Groups should jointly commission support services for deaf people to improve the standard and level of these services. They could save money together and create a more competitive market.
• London GPs and NHS Trusts should review the accessibility of their complaints processes for deaf patients. Direct links, including an “easy read” format, should be clearly visible on websites in order to make it easier.
• A universal standard for British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting should be provided in GP surgeries and hospitals.
Watch the Executive Summary in BSL.
Download a full copy of the report here.
BDN interviewed Andrew Boff, AM, Deputy Chair of the London Assembly Health Committee and the report’s rapporteur, about his plans for a more inclusive health care system.
BDN: In the report you state: “Even the passing of the Equality Act 2010, which should protect deaf people from discrimination and require service providers to make reasonable, proactive adjustments, has not made
a significant difference to the experience of deaf people.” How does the Equality Act fail deaf people?
So far, it seems that the Equality Act 2010 isn’t improving the level of
service that deaf patients receive. In theory, it requires service providers to make reasonable and proactive adjustments to improve the accessibility of their services to
people who are disabled.
In reality, it seems that the burden still lies on the patient to make adjustments – like bringing their own BSL interpreter. Furthermore, enforcing the Act requires individuals to go through a complex and expensive legal process and we found that deaf people were not being provided with the advice and advocacy services that they need to do this. Again, this tips the balance of power further away from the patient.
BDN: What has been the response to your report? From health professionals to the Deaf community?
The response to the report has been overwhelmingly positive. We
launched the report at City Hall on 9 June, and invited a range of stakeholders from deaf organisations and the health sector.
Paul Redfern, Business Development Manager, British Deaf Association said: “The report is very powerful. The British Deaf Association recognises and really welcomes this report… Without the report we don’t have a voice, and without us having a voice, services can’t change to adapt to our needs. So far, we have been invisible and this is the start of us now becoming visible.”
Dr Roger Wicks, Director of Policy & Campaigns, Action on Hearing Loss said: “I think what the report does is put this issue on the public agenda, particularly in London, but beyond London. This mustn’t be a report that we talk about today and then forget.”
BDN: How can we encourage more deaf people to actively get involved in urging their local Health and Wellbeing board to make changes?
There are a number of stakeholder organisations working really hard to promote the various interests of deaf people. But we felt that these groups needed to work more closely together in lobbying for change – presenting a single, unified voice will maximise their chances of success. Local Health and Wellbeing Boards will become key organisations in agreeing and implementing change, so that seems to be an obvious place to apply collective pressure.
BDN: The report highlights the need for a greater number of BSL interpreters – what do you propose the minimum BSL standard be? How can this be captured in the National Framework Agreement for Interpreters?
We quite deliberately chose not to recommend a specific minimum standard for BSL interpreters in the health service. We received mixed evidence on what the level should be, and we therefore decided to urge NHS England to take the lead in reaching agreement on this, in conjunction with key stakeholders like the NRCPD, the BDA and Signature. More highly qualified BSL interpreters obviously come at a cost, so work needs to be done to establish what level is appropriate and affordable.
BDN: Why has there been a reluctance/delay amongst health providers to implement changes?
I think part of the problem – which our report highlighted – is that the scale of the demand simply isn’t known. I was amazed to discover the estimates for the number of deaf people in London ranged from just 25,000 to over a million. How can the health service cater for demand if there is such uncertainty? To me, this seems such a basic thing to establish when thinking about planning and commissioning services, and our report called on NHS England London to take a lead in collecting better data on hearing disability in London.
“The whole investigation process has been a real eye-opener for me personally, and I hope it has helped to bring some of these issues out into the open”
I’ve been shocked by some of the evidence we’ve received. It’s terrible that such a large part of the population is excluded from receiving the benefits of our health service that most of us take for granted.
It has, however, allowed me to meet a number of amazing people – like Graham Welton, (who brought the issue of access to our attention at People’s Question Time) and Paul Redfern, who are doing great things in advancing the interests of deaf people in London.
This is by no means the end of the process for us. We will now be pressing a number of organisations – like NHS England London and London’s Clinical Commissioning Groups – to respond to our report and implement our recommendations. I hope BDN will get behind our work and raise the profile around these issues further over the months and years to come.