People with hearing loss often face costly and unnecessary barriers to communication when they visit the GP or other NHS services. Our research shows that more than a quarter of people with hearing loss come away from their GP unclear about their diagnosis – while nearly a fifth are unsure about their medication.
It's crucial that you do all you can to help change this, by meeting the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and the national guidelines and quality standards aiming to improve accessibility.
Here are some practical steps you can take:
1. Provide a range of contact methods
People with hearing loss may find it difficult or impossible to use the telephone to book an appointment, order repeat prescriptions or receive test results. They may benefit from other contact methods, such as:
- online booking
- SMS text
- Next Generation Text (which has replaced Text Relay) – typed messages are relayed to the other caller via an operator
- video relay – conversation is relayed through a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter using video.
You should provide appropriate training for receptionists and other staff members on the different ways people with hearing loss may wish to make contact and be contacted.
2. Make sure waiting areas and reception desks are accessible
When a patient arrives, make it crystal clear where and how they should check in – and when it’s their turn to be seen. Receptionists and care staff should demonstrate good deaf awareness, and at least one staff member should be responsible for championing the needs of people with hearing loss.
We can help you achieve this, with our Deaf Awareness courses, e-learning and specialised products.
People with hearing loss may also benefit from visual display systems and flashing or vibrating pagers that let them know when it’s their turn to be seen. Working hearing loops should be in place for people who use hearing aids. If a patient requires communication support, this should be available when they arrive.
3. Provide communication support during appointments
Ask patients if they need help to communicate well and/or understand information. Once recorded, make sure these communication and information needs are highly visible or linked to an electronic alert on the records, to prompt staff members to take the appropriate action when that patient books an appointment. For example, patients with hearing loss should be able to book a longer appointment to make sure there’s time for effective communication. Remember, people with hearing loss benefit from different types of communication support.
- Foster good deaf awareness – staff should keep in mind simple communication tips such as speaking clearly, facing the person while speaking to them, and not obscuring their lip movements.
- Provide hearing loop systems that help people who use hearing aids on the hearing loop setting (formerly known as the 'T' setting) hear sounds more clearly over background noise.
- Provide registered communication professionals who help people with hearing loss communicate and/or understand spoken English. Put procedures in places so that communication professionals can be booked in advance – you can’t always secure them at short notice. Family and friends must not be used to interpret, unless the patient explicitly asks for them.
- Publish an accessible communication and information policy, in accessible formats, to let your patients known about the support available.
- Enable patients to give feedback about your services in an accessible way.