Under the Equality Act 2010 (and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland), people who are deaf or have hearing loss have the right to expect reasonable adjustments to be made if they face substantial difficulties accessing NHS services.
NHS guidance and quality standards are in place across the UK, to help NHS services make sure that people with sensory loss can access their services and understand the information they are given.
How you can help
1. Be aware of the different contact methods people who are deaf or have hearing loss may wish to use
Telephone-based helplines or consultations may be inaccessible for people who are deaf or have hearing loss. NHS professionals, out-of-hours GP staff and NHS call centre advisors should be aware of the different ways people who are deaf or have hearing loss may wish to contact them and make sure appropriate support is provided. For example, this could include email, SMS text, textphones, the Next Generation Text (NGT) service or British Sign Language (BSL) video relay.
People who are deaf or have hearing loss should not have to rely on family members, friends or carers to speak on their behalf, unless they want their help to communicate.
2. Provide support so people who are deaf or have hearing loss can communicate with ambulance services
Paramedics and other ambulance staff should follow simple tips for good communication and be aware of communication passports and other tools people who are deaf or have hearing loss may wish to use to help them communicate face-to-face.
For example, the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust has produced guidance and a smartphone app to help people who are deaf or have hearing loss share vital information with ambulance staff.
3. Have a clear process in place for asking people what support they need
Hospitals, urgent care centres or walk-in centres should always ask people what support they need to communicate well and make sure appropriate support is provided. In England, this a legal requirement under the Accessible Information Standard.
Information relating to a person’s communication needs may be included in the ‘additional information’ section of their Summary Care Record or contained in other records or documents which are shared between services, such as communication passports.
4. Make sure people who are deaf or have hearing loss get the support they need to communicate well when they visit hospitals, urgent care centres or walk-in centres
For face-to-face contact, NHS staff should follow simple communication tips and a working hearing loop system or personal listener should be available for people with hearing loss to use. People who are deaf or have hearing loss should be notified when it’s their turn to seen and shouldn’t have to rely on their name being called out in waiting areas.
Qualified communication professionals such as a BSL interpreter, speech-to-text-reporter (STTR) or electronic notetaker should be provided to everyone who needs one. Ensuring communication professionals are registered with NRCPD (or SASLI in Scotland) provides assurance that they are suitably qualified.
Family members, friends and carers should not be used instead of communication professionals, unless the person explicitly asks for their help to communicate.
If communication professionals are unavailable at short notice, some people who are deaf or have hearing loss may benefit from BSL or STTR video relay services (where a conversation is translated remotely via a video call).
However, it’s good practice to always try to book face-to-face support in the first instance. BSL or STTR video relay services may not be suitable for everyone and may be inappropriate for longer appointments and sensitive discussions about diagnosis or treatment.
5. Be alert to the early signs of hearing loss and make sure older people get the support they need to use their hearing aids
NHS staff working on hospital wards should be alert to the early signs of hearing loss and encourage people to get a hearing test. Older people may also need ongoing support to look after their hearing aids and get the most out of them.
For example, portable screening devices can be used to help identify older people who may benefit from a hearing test. NHS staff should also be aware of technology such as hearing loops and personal listeners that can improve communication.
NHS staff should also help older people put their hearing aids in properly and record the type of hearing aid and the accessories they may need – for example, replacement batteries or tubing - on the patient’s notes or care plan.
See our guidance that sets out the practical steps NHS staff can take to improve the care of older people in hospital.
Action on Hearing Loss can provide deaf awareness training and other solutions to help your NHS services become more accessible. Contact our Access Solutions team to find out more:
Telephone: 0333 240 5658
Textphone: 0333 014 4530