On Monday 31st March 2014, Deaf health was discussed in the House of Lords following the launch of our Sick Of It report.
Unfortunately, Deaf people couldn’t access the debate because a BSL interpreter and Speech to Text services were not provided. The debate was about Deaf people, so Deaf people must know what was said. We have made this plain English to inform you about what happened, and have also filmed BSL videos for you to watch here.
We have made a different blog post to tell you how Baroness Jolly’s responded.
First speaker: Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
He starts his speech by explaining the debate is about grass roots Deaf people and BSL users. He talks about Sick Of It, the largest Deaf health study in the world, and how Deaf health rarely gets discussed. He says that is because you can’t see that a person is Deaf. He says there is little awareness about the barriers Deaf people face, and lots of medical people make a mistake and think speaking loudly or writing notes on pieces of paper is an acceptable way of communicating with Deaf people. He discusses the findings of Sick Of It (you can watch the findings in BSL or read it in English here). Lord Ponsonby explains that Deaf people don’t want special treatment, but they want EQUAL treatment, and then he explains the changes that need to be made (go to our website then click on BSL or English button, then click on ‘Prescriptions for Change’ to see what those changes are).
Lord Ponsonby finishes by asking seven questions to the Minister.
- Are there plans to ensure NHS Choices increase the number of health videos in BSL?
- What would the Minister recommend a Deaf person should do if they go the doctors but are told an interpreter isn’t available, or that it is too expensive to get one?
- What will the Government do to get the NHS Executive and Public Health England to promote the health of Deaf people?
- When can we expect the NHS computer system to be able to tell us how many Deaf people there are, and which services they are using?
- Will the new Information Standard be supported by a scheme to help educate and support health services?
- Should psychological therapies providing BSL be the responsibility of specialised commissioners? How can we ensure that psychological services are available for Deaf people nationwide?
- What does the Minister think would be the best way to raise Deaf awareness among staff working in the health service?
Second Speaker: Lord Borwick (Con)
Lord Borwick explains he has been a trustee of the Ewing Foundation for deaf children for 25 years. For the last 60 years, the charity has helped improve the teaching of children who use residual hearing and lip reading to communicate by speech. He said ‘the introduction of cochlear implants, digital hearing aids and newborn hearing screening is one of the most exciting stories in disability’. He talked about the woman who had the video of her cochlear implant spread across newspapers and the Internet last week as a ‘revolution’, and for ‘the first time she can hear music, the laughter of babies and the songs of birds’. He shared his views about our Sick Of It report:
He says the Sick Of It report is important and interesting but it focuses on Deaf BSL users. When you start talking about statistics it gets confusing because there are different types of deafness – grass roots Deaf and BSL users, or deaf people who have used English all their life but lost their hearing with old age.
He says, ‘a strong part of good communications is literacy. Unfortunately, communicating through sign language while learning to read and write in English, is like talking in English and reading and writing in Chinese.’
Lord Borwick focuses a lot on how older people experience deafness, and how cochlear implants really help profoundly deaf children in mainstream schools, with both their education and establishing friendships. He says that although cochlear implants are expensive, they are ‘so much cheaper than a lifetime of interpreters’. He added, ‘there are now only a very small number of children below the age of five who use sign language.’
Lord Borwick asks the Minister two questions.
- Deaf children and young people need to be equipped with information and strategies to access health services independently as adults. To achieve that, we will need more teachers of the deaf. How can we get them?
- It is far cheaper to have a text system for booking appointments than using an interpreter to do it, and spending money to get that system working would benefit all patients.
Third Speaker: Lord Addington (LD)
Lord Addington is the chairman of a company called Microlink which supports disabled people, usually involving computing. He was not surprised by anything in the Sick Of It report. He thinks using online interpreters is best in the modern world with the Internet. He thinks it gives a person more dignity than having an interpreter in the room at times when subjects such as sexual health are being discussed. For it to work, the professional and the patient must know how to use the service. He also talked about an American service called UbiDuop that uses written/keyboard communication for people.
Lord Addington believes that as well as online services helping Deaf people in health situations, it will also help in many other situations. He said support for Deaf people also needs to continue after they have left the doctors or hospital.
Fourth Speaker: Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB)
The Baroness recognises that many hearing people are not aware of the barriers Deaf people face. She feels she has some understanding because she has struggled with her hearing for many years. She says that people should be allowed to pick their which ever communication method they prefer, and she is pleased that some changes are already happening. For example, Kirklees Healthwatch have focused on Deaf awareness training, and booking interpreters. She talks about hearing loss in older people, and says it would be a disgrace if we did not make improvements for D/deaf people.
Fifth Speaker: Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
Lord Hunt is the chair of an NHS foundation trust, a consultant and trainer with Cumberlege Connections and president of GS1. He was a speaker at our Sick Of It conference. He talks about the importance of equal access for Deaf people, such as allowing patients to book their doctors appointments using an SMS service, and putting health information online in BSL and with subtitles. He discusses how important psychological therapies in BSL are for Deaf people, and the recent news that the therapy might soon stop being available. He asks, how is that ok under the Equality Act? He wants to know how the Government are making sure that public authorities are following the Equality Act, and what action will be taken if they don’t?
He explains that some doctors in the NHS are confused about who pays for interpreters, now that primary care trusts have been replaced by clinical commissioning groups. He suspects that funding has been withdrawn, and wants to know what the Minister thinks about that.
Lord Hunt agrees that cochlear implants are an achievement, and is delighted that BSL recently became a recognised language. He recognises more people need to train as teachers of D/deaf children and that online interpretation will be helpful for many people. Lord Hunt asks,
- Will the Government consider the appointment of a national champion of health services for Deaf people – maybe a national clinical director?
- Will the Minister encourage Healthwatch to focus on services for Deaf people?
- Will the Minister encourage health and well-being boards to act on the concerns about all health services?
- Will the Minister encourage the development of clinical networks in each local health area, so that there is co-ordination of services across all care for D/deaf people?
- Will the Minister organise regular meetings between D/deaf organisations and the NHS in each local health area, so that there can be proper discussion and debate about D/deaf people’s needs?
Read the full written report of what happened here on the parliament website.
Image credit: Jikartu