Deaf patient with woman using sign langauge to communicate

BSL to be used in NHS mental health service

The charity, SignHealth, have been awarded a national contract with NHS England to supply the mental health service Talking Therapies in British Sign Language.

The new specialist service will help to support Deaf people who are experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

This marks the first time NHS England have granted a national contract to a Deaf specialist service and will hope to bridge the gap and tackle the health inequalities recognised after a recent freedom of information (FOI) request found that around 100 NHS trusts do not comply with accessible information standards (AIS).

Prior to the contract, Deaf people experiencing mental health related issues would have to rely on funding from their Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to approve additional communication assistance on an individual basis.

Waiting for approval of the funding for BSL therapy services meant that many Deaf patients were having to wait considerably longer than their able hearing counterparts.

Many CCG’s do not grant additional funding and would not offer these kinds of services to Deaf people, often resulting in ‘postcode lottery’.

James Watson-O’Neill, Chief Executive at SignHealth, said: ‘We are so proud of this achievement. This is a truly ground-breaking step forwards for Deaf services in England. The NHS is listening and taking action to address the structural barriers Deaf people face.’

Talking Therapies has been proven to be the most effective may of treating mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression, which was also recommended by NICE in a recent update to their guidelines stating that people experiencing mental health problems should be offered therapy before antidepressant.

Dr Sarah Powell, Clinical Lead at SignHealth, said: ‘Deaf people are twice as likely to experience mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety compared to hearing people. This is a serious and sometimes life-threatening health inequality. Therapy delivered in sign language has been proven to have higher recovery rates and we are delighted that this contract removes the funding barrier so that more Deaf people are able to access life-changing treatment.’

Healthwatch England submitted FOI requests to which 139 NHS trusts responded. Over half (53%) of the trusts said they ask patients about their communication needs upon first contact as it has not previously been recorded on their patient notes.

Not having adequate AIS in place can lead to hours of wasted clinical time and severe anxiety and embarrassment for those who require additional communication assistance, posing a huge health inequality throughout the sector.

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NHE May/June 2024

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