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March 9, 2004

Deaf study raises NHS concerns

BBC News, UK - Mar 9, 2004

Problems communicating with the hard of hearing are costing the NHS in Scotland £1.6m every year, it has been claimed.

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) said it was "alarmed" by the results of its national survey, A Simple Cure.

It suggested that misunderstandings led to patients missing appointments and taking the wrong dosage of medicine.

The RNID wants health boards to invest in display boards, loop systems for hearing aids and staff training.

It also warned that the NHS could fall foul of the Disability Discrimination Act, which comes into full force in October.

Deputy Health Minister Tom McCabe said the report made "worrying reading".

He said that NHS managers should consider how services in their area could be improved.

About 750,000 people in Scotland are deaf or hard of hearing, and more than 100 of them took part in the RNID survey.

A quarter of those questioned had missed at least one appointment due to poor communication.

The study estimated that missed appointments alone cost the Scottish NHS £1.6m a year.

Some 45% of respondents found it difficult to communicate with NHS staff.

The RNID said a third of sign language users were unsure about the correct dosage of medicine.

The steps being called for by the charity include:

Wider use of existing technology like visual alert displays and loop systems

Deaf awareness training for all medical and nursing undergraduates

Seminars to ensure that all GP surgeries and hospitals have at least one frontline staff member trained in deaf awareness and practical communication skills

Access to video interpreting technology in areas where there is a high concentration of sign language users.

RNID Scotland director Maggie Williams said: "The NHS in Scotland can easily address this situation with simple and cost-effective solutions.

"Minor investment from health boards in simple technologies such as visual alert displays and loop systems will improve access and help lower the number of missed appointments.

"However, to be truly effective this investment needs to be followed by deaf awareness training for all frontline NHS staff.

"We call on the executive to make this training available and ensure that the 750,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in Scotland receive the equal treatment to which they are entitled."