Our research shows that people who are deaf or have hearing loss often struggle to use GP services. For example, our 2013 Access All Areas (UK) report shows that one in seven (14%) had missed an appointment because they didn’t hear their name being called in the waiting room.
In 2017 we surveyed 100 people who are deaf or have hearing loss in Northern Ireland to find out if the situation had improved. Our survey results show that people who are deaf or have hearing loss often have to visit their GP practice in person, use the telephone, or rely on family and friends to make appointments or to get urgent medical advice.
This is despite their clear preference to be able to contact their GP practice using SMS or online services. The findings also highlight that GP and nurses’ attitudes and behaviour have a major impact on how much people with hearing loss understand at appointments – and that many people are leaving the surgery feeling unclear at times.
- Over one-third (35%) say they ask other people to call their GP surgery on their behalf, but less than one fifth (18%), want other people to do this.
- The majority (90%) of survey respondents say that an SMS service to remind them about appointments isn’t available. Compare this to England, where over half (53%) of respondents say they do receive SMS reminders from their GP surgery.
- Almost half (48%) say they've experienced difficulties over the past year when booking urgent, same-day appointments because these appointments can only be booked by phone; and almost two-fifths (39%) say they have to ask a family member or support worker to call on their behalf.
- Only 4% say a hearing loop system is available at their GP surgery reception.
- Nearly two-thirds (68%) of respondents say they feel unclear about what they've been told by their GP, at least some of the time.
- 41% say doctors or nurses speak too quickly and 47% say the doctor or nurse doesn't check that they've understood what's been said.
In Northern Ireland we produced a detailed guide for GP practices on how to improve their accessibility. This was distributed to every practice by the Health and Social Care Board in 2014. But, three years on, the majority of patients are not being asked about their communication needs and have not noticed any improvements since the introduction of our guidance.
- 65% of respondents say they don't know that they have the right to receive information in a way that is accessible to them.
- Only 9% of patients with hearing loss say that practice staff ask them if they need support to contact their GP surgery or understand what is said in appointments.
- 70% of survey respondents say that they haven't noticed any improvements over the past three years in the way GPs, nurses or other health and social care professionals communicate with them.
We asked patients what their priorities are in relation to improving access to health care services:
- 36% of respondents say that their top priority is having more accessible ways to contact their GP surgery, such as email and SMS.
- More than a third (37%) of survey respondents also cite improving online access as one of the top three changes they want their GP surgery to make.
We are calling on the Department of Health to introduce an Accessible Information Standard to Northern Ireland. It needs to ensure a consistent and specific approach to identifying, recording, flagging and sharing accessible information needs, to be supported by independent monitoring mechanisms.
GP and NHS services must make sure that services are accessible to people who are deaf or have hearing loss. This includes increasing the use of SMS and online access to services.
Staff working in health services should get high quality deaf awareness training.
We all want to support GP surgeries to improve their practice, so we’ve produced a simple tool to help you tell yours what’s not right, the impact that has, and the simple changes you’d like to see.