SignHealth’s roots lie in offering services to Deaf people with mental health problems. That is still a big part of what we do, but we have expanded to offer help for a much wider range of needs involving health issues and general wellbeing. We began in 1986 as the Anastasia Trust, because there was a lack of services for profoundly Deaf people with additional needs. In 1991 we relaunched as Sign, named after sign language which our clients nearly all use. Then in 2005 we widened our work from just mental health to all health issues for deaf people, and renamed ourselves SignHealth to reflect that change. Today we’re actively engaged in a wide range of projects and services, which are all designed to improve the health and wellbeing of Deaf people.
The charity’s first housing project in Balham, South West London, has been running successfully since early 1993. This is an Edwardian house converted into flats and now is home for five people who were referred from South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust. The tenants, who had moved from long term institutional care, have made dramatic progress and, with their mental health conditions having stabilised, they learnt new life skills and moved towards a greater degree of independence. A second scheme opened in Manchester in October 1994 and once again all the tenants are making tremendous progress and living active lives. Our tenants are encouraged to take an active part in the running of our schemes and we focus on person centred planning. They are thus able to take the tentative first steps in deciding how to live their lives, building up the self-confidence and self-esteem that has so often been lost after long periods of institutionalisation or isolation. Tenants make choices in terms of decorating, colour schemes and furnishings; they chair weekly house meetings, take part in care audit procedures and work together with their key workers on their care plans. Sign opened a second home in Manchester, and others have followed in Leeds, London and Birmingham. Outreach services were started to support people in their communities. In the spring of 1996 Sign’s largest project to that date opened. This was a pioneering development in the health and social care for deaf people with mental health difficulties. The project, a result of a partnership with South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust (formerly of Springfield Hospital), saw the relocation of the inpatient psychiatric service from its former site, a deteriorating prefabricated building in the grounds of a Victorian mental hospital, to a converted church in the heart of the community. The renovated building incorporates inpatient psychiatric care and facilities for specialised long-term accommodation for those patients who no longer need the intensive and costly hospital care but are not yet able to make the move back into the community. A day service based on the ‘Clubhouse’ philosophy ran for several years in Balham from the end of 1995 to 2007. People joined as members, not patients or clients, thereby encouraging a sense of belonging so often denied to people isolated in society. Sadly this project is no longer funded and has therefore had to close. Sign carried out research in 1995 assessing the needs of Deaf people with mental health problems, funded by the Department of Health. The outcome of the investigations fed into plans for the development of future services throughout the UK. SignHealth advocacy and counselling services have been established and we are able to reach more people in need by providing outreach from residential projects in Manchester and London. Recent research projects included suicide and deafness and analytical reports following the national GP Patient Survey. SignHealth is now working with the Department of Health on a number of initiatives affecting the health of deaf people. In March 2014 we published the results of our five year long study into the health of Deaf people. We called the report Sick Of It, and the research showed that thousands of Deaf people have undiagnosed problems which put them at risk of life threatening conditions including heart attacks and strokes. As well as showing that doctors were failing to spot problems, the report also revealed poor treatment, difficult access to healthcare, and a lack of health information in BSL. As part of the Sick Or If report we came up with our Prescriptions For Change, simple and affordable changes which will improve the health of Deaf people.
Funding and Access to Services
SignHealth’s supported housing projects have been established where there is an identified need and where there is local authority support. This ensures long term viability. Capital funding for housing projects comes from the Housing Corporation and SignHealth funds the commissioning costs. Fees paid by Local Authorities for their clients cover revenue costs. Referrals for places at SignHealth schemes normally come through Social Services and Community Mental Health teams. The charity is otherwise funded by trust funds and grants, local authority spot funding for services, voluntary donations and a range of fundraising activities.