The Health Minister, Lord Howe, has agreed to set up a working group to look at the way Psychological Therapy is provided for Deaf people. He made the commitment during a House of Lords debate into mental health services for British Sign Language users.
The debate was opened by Lord Ponsonby, who said, “the current provision of mental health services for BSL users is poor and likely to get worse”. Not having services available in all parts of the country led to a post-code lottery he said, and a “second rate and sometimes dangerous service”.
SignHealth worked with Lord Ponsonby to call the debate, because specialist mental health services for Deaf people have been cut back since changes were made to the way the NHS is run. Specially trained therapists who work in British Sign Language have been made redundant, because local NHS bodies who now choose which services to provide are failing to pay for them.
Labour’s Spokesperson on Health in the Lords, Lord Hunt, said the therapy service offered in BSL by SignHealth, which has been badly affected, had “showed very, very promising results” and had “clearly fallen foul of the CCGs”.
The CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) are the local health professionals who decide which services they will pay for and provide in their own area.
“We need to find a way which will actually help CCGs to commission services locally for smaller population groups”, Lord Hunt said. “Left to themselves, CCGs will not do it”.
Lord Howe said that since a meeting between SignHealth and another Health Minister officials have been working on proposals to help with the commissioning of Psychological Therapies for deaf people.
For now, he promised that the Department of Health will remind the local commissioners (or CCGs) how important it is that Psychological Therapy services are accessible to British Sign Language users. He also said, “we recognise the importance of deaf people being supported and enabled to communicate through British Sign Language where they wish to do so”.
He didn’t commit to providing the service using a therapist working in British Sign Language. That leaves the local commissioners free to keep on using BSL interpreters in sessions with a hearing therapist. Earlier, Lord Ponsonby said that system was “a retrograde step”, which would mean “most will go back to suffering in silence”. Baroness Tyler of Enfield said it “inevitably changes the dynamic … in a way that can be detrimental”.
The Health Minister Lord Howe paid tribute to “the exceptional work of SignHealth in promoting the same sort of access to health care and health information for Deaf people as hearing people receive”.
Lord Hunt said it was abundantly clear that “at the moment there is no national strategy at all, that one can turn to that will actually describe what kind of services deaf people could expect from the NHS”. He said a lack of national standards meant there is nothing for local health providers to measure their series against.
Lord Howe said there will be clear guidance in the Accessible Information Standard which he expects to be published in the spring, and that “NHS England have worked closely with SignHealth on the development of the standard, and SignHealth have offered advice about particular aspects of the standard which relate to Deaf people”.
Image Credit: Houses of Parliament by RajanPhotos. Lord Howe by Department of Health. Other Lords by www.parliament.uk