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Your spotlight on health and social care services


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Improving access to health services for the deaf community


Health and care services need to be accessible for everyone, but those who are deaf often face problems. Healthwatch Bedford Borough share how they are working to achieve change in their area.

Lady with a hearing aid

We spoke to Emma Freda from Healthwatch Bedford Borough to find out more.

What made you investigate this issue?

Back in early January 2015 we were contacted by local organisation Access Bedford about the lack of text-only service for the deaf community to urgent care. We met with Access Bedford and other local organisations and found that the deaf community in Bedford Borough has significant issues to accessing health services.

What did you find out?

We learnt that people were unable to contact Bedford Hospital switchboard for non-urgent enquiries as they often had mobile phones and PCs as opposed to using type talk. This meant that they were unable to access the hospital switchboard just as a hearing person would to change their appointments, check opening hours, find out which ward a relative was on, or book British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters. We put our concerns and a series of our recommendations to the CCG and Bedford hospital.

What happened as a result?

After lengthy talks, Bedford Hospital launched a designated email address for the deaf community, to ensure they have access to Bedford Hospital switchboard services 24 hours a day. In addition to receiving an email acknowledgement, the sender will receive a response within 30 minutes, with details of the action being taken to a request to confirm information if necessary. We are proud to say that we campaigned for the first Hospital NHS Trust in the United Kingdom to have this specialist email facility for the deaf community.  

Following work by Access Bedford, Bedfordshire Police recently followed suit, launching a designated email for all non-urgent queries and we're currently in talks with the Local Authority and Fire Service to implement the same process. 

What difference will it make?

This means that all people will have the same level of access to both Bedford Hospital and the Police for non-urgent enquiries.  

What feedback have you had so far?

We have been overwhelmed with feedback from the deaf community, about how much better they feel about being able to access necessary services. We have also been working with NHS England on the soon to be released draft standards for interpretation (including BSL) for the country and have given lots of feedback on the isolation felt by the deaf population when trying to access primary and secondary care settings.