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March 3, 2004

NHS 'does not provide for deaf patients'

From: ePolitix - UK - Mar 3, 2004

Sarah Southerton

Poor provision for deaf and hard of hearing patients is costing the NHS through missed appointments, according to a report published on Wednesday.

The RNID study found that nearly a quarter of deaf and hard of hearing patients had missed at least one appointment due to poor communication with frontline NHS staff.

For nearly a fifth of those affected, this had happened on more than five occasions.

A third of respondents using sign language were left unsure of the correct dosage of their medication, or had taken the wrong amount due to communication problems with doctors or pharmacists.

Deaf patients also experienced problems at hospital - 42 per cent reported difficulties in communicating with staff, while more than a third were left unclear about their condition.

Of those sign language users admitted to accident and emergency wards, 70 per cent were not provided with an interpreter.

"The NHS can easily address this situation with simple and cost effective solutions," said RNID chief executive Dr John Low.

"Minor investment 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 dead awareness training for all frontline NHS staff."

Government response

Health minister Rosie Winterton defended the government's record.

"It is for the service providers to implement the Disability Discrimination Act which, in section 21, includes the needs of people with sensory impairment and learning difficulties which can be addressed through installation of audio-visual call systems, appropriate colour contrast signage, contour finishes and lighting for example," she said.

But the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Beverley Malone, said the report made "disappointing reading".

"This campaign illustrates just how important appropriate communications are for deaf and hard of hearing patients to receive quality patient care," she said.