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March 17, 2005

Charity wants special GP surgery for deaf patients

From: Glasgow Evening Times - Glasgow,Scotland,UK - Mar 17, 2005

by Gerry Braiden

THOUSANDS of deaf Scots are waiting weeks to see their GP because of a lack of sign language interpreters.

And the experience of visiting a doctor can often make deaf people socially and emotionally isolated due to the difficulty of understanding their diagnosis.

Now a Glasgow-based charity for the deaf is calling on city health chiefs to recruit a GP proficient in sign language.

Deaf Connections has launched a campaign to set up a dedicated sign language surgery in the city.

The Gorbals-based charity has enlisted the help of Dr Wolfgang Schatzlymayr, a signing GP from Austria, and has started a petition at its Norfolk Street offices.

There are no designated signing GPs in the UK, yet 70,000 deaf people throughout the country use British Sign

Language, including 5000 in Scotland and more than 1000 in Glasgow.

Deaf Connections chief executive Gordon Chapman said such a situation was "unacceptable in the 21st century".

He said the prospect of visiting their GP or surgery for thousands of deaf people was a distressing experience as too often they couldn't work out what the doctor was telling them.

Patients often felt there was a lack of privacy when trying to explain sometimes embarrassing symptoms to their doctor via an interpreter.

And it takes an average of two weeks to obtain an interpreter - even in urgent cases.

Mr Chapman warned this often resulted in many deaf people choosing not to make GP appointments, which could seriously affect their long-term health.

He said: "Sadly, Scotland lags behind when it comes to GPs being able to communicate with deaf patients.

"France has 10 health centres staffed by doctors and nurses who can sign.

"Even if we manage to get one or two GPs who could sign or one predominantly signing surgery as a result of our campaign, this would make a tremendous difference to the lives of deaf patients."

Dr Alan McDevitt, chairman of the Glasgow GPs Committee and a GP in Clydebank, said he did not believe the campaign would solve all the problems that deaf people encountered when visiting their GP.

He said: "Many people would prefer to visit their own GP rather than travel across the city to one with signing abilities.

"And while it is not ideal, we can provide interpreters at short notice if it is urgent."

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