Deafblind patients report worse service from NHS

Deafblind people’s experience of the NHS has deteriorated since 2001, with staff awareness and access significant problems, a survey published by charity Deafblind UK has found.

The study of almost 500 deafblind people, conducted last year, found 59% felt healthcare staff were not aware of their needs, up from 52% in a similar poll in 2001 produced by Deafblind UK and fellow charity Sense.

Family members and friends provided communication support for 77% of respondents, despite lacking the requesite professional skills in deafblind communication. This marked an increase from 60% in 2001. Deafblind UK said misunderstanding about treatment could have serious consequences and deafblind patients had no means of checking whether the information conveyed by friends or relatives was correct.

It said most deafblind patients needed the support of language support professionals with skills in sign language, the deafblind manual – where words are spelt out by hand – and lipspeaking, but added they were in short supply.

There was an improvement in the proportion of deafblind patients who received letters or appointment cards in a format they could understand, but 58% still did not, down from 90%. Ten per cent claimed they had used medication inappropriately and put themselves at risk.

The report called for improved awareness training for NHS staff, better patient records to enable staff to identify deafblind people’s communication requirements and for NHS interpretation and communication support contracts to meet the needs of all deafblind people.

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