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Major report highlights NHS neglect of Deaf

Thousands of Deaf people are suffering from undiagnosed, potentially life-threatening conditions, because of poor access to doctors and unintentional neglect by the NHS. And it’s costing the health service across the UK £30 million a year.

A five year research study undertaken by the University of Bristol and Deaf Health Charity SignHealth reveals for the first time how doctors are failing to spot problems with the health of Deaf people on a frightening scale and when they do diagnose conditions, there is a shocking level of ineffective treatment.

In their report published this week, aptly entitled Sick of It, Deaf people are found to be less satisfied with any medical consultations than are hearing people, and have much lower levels of trust in doctors than do hearing people; yet Deaf people visit their GP more often than do hearing people.

Deaf people are more ill than hearing people, yet much of their illness goes undetected and untreated. Deaf people are found to be more obese, are twice as likely to have undiagnosed high blood pressure as the rest of the population, and even when they are diagnosed, it’s three times more likely that their treatment isn’t working.

More than half of Deaf people with heart disease aren’t being treated properly, and the same is true of diabetes. Deaf people with high cholesterol are half as likely as hearing people to be on medication to bring it under control.

Local charity, Gloucestershire Deaf Association (GDA), has recently been supporting a Deaf woman who was close to despair over the introduction of a triage system at her GP surgery. Unable to use a voice phone, she had begged her doctor to accept her making appointments using text or email, only to find that even though they agreed, her texts and emails were routinely ignored because receptionists and medical staff were busy.

GDA’s Chief Executive Jenny Hopkins said, “This is a shocking report. Deaf people are almost invisible on the margins of society, excluded and misunderstood. And because, by the nature of their disability, Deaf people are not able to vocalise or communicate the unjustness and unfairness of the way they are treated, and because even health professionals are often unable to empathise and then to communicate directly with Deaf patients, their needs are routinely overlooked.

“Society needs to recognise that when the Health Service does not provide equality of access, health problems increase and so then does the cost to the taxpayer. It’s in everyone’s interests to see improvements in the way Deaf patients are cared for.”

The Sick of It report recommends the following course of action to improve Deaf people’s health:

  1. Better training for health staff: on attitude, on knowledge and on behaviour
  2. More training for interpreters around specific health issues
  3. Help create responsibility for better health among Deaf sign language users with Deaf-led workshops, and more accessible online information in BSL.
  4. Access for Deaf people at point of need and in emergency, using relay (online) sign language interpreters such as MyFriend Network.

For a full read of the 'Sick of It' report, either in English or BSL, click here

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