Opening up care for everybody

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 18

Healthwatch chair Jane Mordue talks about how services in Dudley have been made more accessible for patients with sensory impairments. 

Going to hospital or to your GP for an appointment can be stressful at the best of times, so it’s important to make the process as straightforward as possible. However, for those with a sensory impairment, going to the doctors can be challenging and a cause of worry.

Even things as simple as services relying on telephone booking systems for appointments can create unnecessary barriers. Imagine how it would feel if every time you needed to book a GP appointment you had to physically go to the surgery, and even when you got there the receptionist struggled to understand you.

Nobody is better placed to let services know how and where things need to improve than the people who access them. Local Healthwatch groups exist in all areas of England precisely to find out what people want, to listen to the public’s concerns, and to call for change where it’s needed. In order to do this, local Healthwatch look to reach all parts of the community.

Over the last few years the Healthwatch network has worked closely with deaf people to ensure their views are taken on board. This has included:

  • Training: For staff in deaf equality and deaf awareness, and for deaf people in how to carry out visits to check on services with health and social care services as part of the Healthwatch team;
  • Accessible meetings: With full access for deaf people, including British Sign Language (BSL) users and other ways of being understood, such as lip reading, so that they can raise and discuss health and care issues that affect them;
  • Inclusion: Recruiting deaf people to ensure the community is represented throughout Healthwatch work;
  • Holding to account: Checking that health and care services meet the requirements of the Accessible Information Standard and advising where changes are needed.

Healthwatch has been working on projects to support deaf people across the country, in Worcestershire, Wandsworth, and from research projects in Wolverhampton, looking at the experiences of deaf people to identify what problems there are accessing healthcare services in the city, to improving access to mental health services in Wakefield. 

In Dudley deaf people told the local Healthwatch that going for medical appointments was sometimes difficult. They talked about their fear of missing appointments because they couldn’t hear their names being called in busy clinics, and their struggles to communicate with staff.

So, Healthwatch Dudley brought a group of deaf people together to share how the risk of missing appointments was making deaf people feel extremely anxious. One suggestion was to provide vibrating and flashing pagers to let them know when the doctor was ready to see them.

The trust embraced the idea and pagers have now been introduced to hospital waiting areas and are being used not only for deaf patients, but also for those with other sensory and physical impairments. The programme has been so successful that the local CCG is now looking to roll it out to GP practices.

Involving deaf patients through BSL

In London, Healthwatch Redbridge, together with 12 other local Healthwatch, developed and supported the involvement of profoundly deaf people who use BSL.

Individuals were trained to visit services and gather the views and experiences of the people receiving care on behalf of local Healthwatch. Once trained, the volunteers visited health and care services looking at deaf access in three London Emergency Departments.

The impact of this work has seen local health and social care services begin to address weaknesses in deaf access and identify good practice that we can highlight and share between organisations. This can only lead to deaf people having better experiences when using services.

It’s simple changes like booking appointments by text message, double-length appointments and visual message boards in waiting rooms that can enable better healthcare experiences, and help medical professionals make faster, more informed diagnoses – saving time, money and lives.



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