British Deaf Association condemns “life-threatening communication failures” faced every day by Deaf people in the NHS and calls for mandatory BSL and Deaf awareness training for frontline NHS staff
The British Deaf Association (BDA) has condemned the “life-threatening communication failures” experienced every day by Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users in the NHS, after the latest tragic incident in which a Deaf woman from Derby found out by accident that her husband had died, as paramedics could not communicate with her and no BSL interpreter was provided.
As the first anniversary of the passage of the BSL Act approaches on 28 April, the BDA is calling for the urgent introduction of mandatory BSL Level 1 and Deaf Awareness training for all frontline NHS staff who interact with Deaf patients. This training must ensure that NHS staff are aware of their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 and the Accessible Information Standard 2016, which includes knowing how to book a qualified, registered BSL interpreter for Deaf patients.
In its 2021 Review of the NHS Accessible Information Standard (AIS), the Deaf health charity SignHealth found that:
- After five years of the Accessible Information Standard, only 11 per cent of patients covered by the AIS had equitable access to the NHS.
- 35 per cent of professionals reported that their organisation provided regular training linked to the AIS. 37 per cent report training had never occurred.
- 67 per cent of Deaf people reported that no accessible method of contacting their GP had been made available to them.
- 81 per cent of patients reported having an appointment when their communication needs were unmet
- 77 per cent of people with accessible information needs reported rarely or never receiving information in alternative formats.
- Only 41 per cent of complaints procedures were reported to be accessible by the professionals who filled in the survey.
- 1 in 3 health and social care providers were unaware or unsure of the existence of the AIS.
Rebecca Mansell, Chief Executive of the British Deaf Association, said:
“Every Deaf person in Britain has countless heartbreaking stories like these.
Stories of young children being forced by doctors to inform their Deaf parent that they have terminal cancer, Deaf people undergoing operations without understanding what they’re for or able to give their consent, Deaf people having urgent health treatment cancelled because they couldn’t answer phone calls from the hospital that hadn’t bothered to read their notes.
The Equality Act 2010 and the Accessible Information Standard 2016 guarantee BSL users the right to communicate via a qualified, registered BSL interpreter. But this still isn’t happening.
Our language – British Sign Language - was finally recognised in law last year, with the BSL Act 2022. As we approach the first National BSL Day on 28 April, the Deaf community now rightly expects that we are now, at long last, going to be treated as equals when it comes to accessing public services.
While we are relieved that it is now finally possible to contact the emergency services via video relay, using the 999 BSL app, what happens when paramedics arrive at a Deaf person’s home? What happens when a seriously ill Deaf person enters a hospital? How do they communicate?
It is time for the introduction of mandatory BSL and Deaf Awareness training for all frontline NHS staff who interact with Deaf people. This must happen in addition to urgent improvements to the provision of qualified BSL interpreters for Deaf people in routine and emergency healthcare settings.
When an in-person interpreter is not immediately available, healthcare staff should contact video relay interpreters – “interpreters on wheels” – to ensure that they can communicate with the Deaf patient without delay.
Every second counts. That communication can mean the difference between the patient’s life or death.”
To request an interview with the CEO of the British Deaf Association, Rebecca Mansell, or to find out more, please contact:
PR & Communications Consultant
British Deaf Association
Mobile: 07861 035699