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Perspectives on primary care part 6: the Deaf community


To build on our understanding on people's experiences of primary care, we spoke to a group of people from the Deaf community in East London who told us about the challenges they experience.

Deaf people signing with each other

Most people when surveyed say that they are satisfied with the care they get from primary care services, but this does not tell the full story. In our series of blogs, we explore the experiences of specific patient groups to find out more about what is working well and where things could be improved. 

Working with Healthwatch Waltham Forest and Healthwatch Newham we spoke to a group of Deaf people from East London about their experiences. Here is what they told us: 

Booking interpreters isn’t easy

People told us that they often face long waiting times when trying to book an interpreter for an appointment with their GP. They also shared their frustration about the reliability of the service, with interpreters who do not turn up, bookings that disappear and on one occasion two interpreters showing up for the same appointment.

“I have to rely on family […] I hate having to tell my family, I’m an independent woman. […]I do need my own privacy […] if it’s something private, then that’s really really difficult, […] it’s really embarrassing.”

Unreliable support results in increased dependence on friends and family 

We heard that people often had to turn to friends and family for help after facing serious medical issues.  One woman told us how her mother and sister have to book and attend GP appointments with her, leaving her feeling embarrassed without any privacy.

People do not feel listened to

Without an interpreter, people who are Deaf often struggle with staff making gestures in attempts to communicate. The people that we spoke to said they felt let down and frustrated that staff and GPs do not take time to understand their problems or explain things properly.

One woman said: “And I was like ‘ I’m Deaf’ and the GP was like ‘I know’, but carried on speaking and I thought, ‘Hold on, I can’t understand what you’re saying so you need to write it down’, and the GP was really reluctant to do so.”

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Treatment plans are confusing

Difficulties communicating can result in confusion over treatment plans and medication. Several people we spoke to described not knowing why a medication was being prescribed to them. 

Without a clear understanding many said they often did not take the medication due to a lack of trust in their GP. In one case, poor communication led to a woman overdosing and losing consciousness.

They want better access and understanding

People told us that although having an interpreter in the room was best, they would be happy to find other solutions to these challenges. Suggestions included accessible videos with information to help them look after their health and the option to book appointments by text, use online chat and online In-Vision signers.  

The solution: building better services together

With 8 in 10 people ready to share their views to help improve services, we are calling on primary care professionals to work more in partnership with patients to help shape the way care is delivered.

People are aware of the pressures that the healthcare system is under and would like to help. The needs of every group vary and by taking the time to hear what patients want from services, professionals can ensure people get the care they need.

Asking people about their experiences can help identify areas of good practice, as well as issues that need to be addressed to make services better.

Want to know more? 

Find out more about what other people told us about their experiences of primary care. 

See our work on primary care

Got an experience to share?

You can help improve local health and care services by sharing your experiences with your local Healthwatch.

Find your Healthwatch