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Video: Press release in BSL

The Deaf health charity SignHealth has been awarded a national NHS England contract to deliver NHS Talking Therapies in British Sign Language (BSL) to support Deaf people experiencing feelings of anxiety, depression, or other common mental health concerns.   

This is the first time NHS England has awarded a national contract to a Deaf specialist service. It is considered a ground-breaking step forward for the Deaf community.   

Deaf people are twice as likely to experience mental health challenges compared to hearing people and this new NHS contract removes a major funding barrier to vital mental health support.   

Lucindha in Harrow holding a sign that says 'here'. Julia in Lincolnshire holding a sign that says 'here'. Sonia in East London holding a sign that says 'here'. Luke in Leeds holding a sign that says 'here'.
Photo: Friends of SignHealth raising awareness that mental health support is now available HERE, wherever you are in England.

Previously, accessible therapy for Deaf people relied on funding being approved by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) on an individual basis for each Deaf patient in England. This regional approach was a complicated and costly process. It often resulted in a postcode lottery, with some CCGs not approving therapy in BSL for their Deaf patients whilst others had long waiting periods before funding would be approved, delaying the start of therapy sessions considerably.   

Claire Murdoch, National Mental Health Director, NHS England and Improvement said: “We are extremely proud to be able to provide an NHS Talking Therapies service for deaf people through our contract with SignHealth. NHS England strives to ensure equal access to healthcare for all and we hope that this partnership will help support deaf people to access all the therapies available to them, improving their NHS experience and outcomes.” 

“SignHealth has been working towards this breakthrough for years, and we are delighted to finally remove this funding barrier for access to mental health services. Demand for our therapy service has grown significantly over the last year as the pandemic has taken its toll on mental health, and we welcome this new approach from NHS England at this crucial time.”

– Christopher Reid, Director of Operations at SignHealth.   

Therapy in British Sign Language   

Research suggests that the best treatment for people suffering from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety is ‘talking therapy’. This was recently highlighted in proposed updates to NICE guidelines suggesting therapy, rather than antidepressant medications, should be prescribed to patients first.   

However, therapy relies on 1-1 communication and for Deaf people this is problematic. The moment a sign language interpreter is involved, the conversation becomes less intimate and has been shown to be less effective for the patient. All of SignHealth’s therapists are either Deaf or hearing and fluent in BSL, and some can also support deaf people who do not sign.   

This NHS contract means Deaf people can access IAPT talking therapy directly, in their own language, the same way as their hearing peers.   

“Deaf people are twice as likely to experience mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety compared to hearing people. This is a serious and sometimes life-threatening health inequality. Therapy delivered in sign language has been proven to have higher recovery rates and we are delighted that this contract removes the funding barrier so that more Deaf people are able to access life-changing treatment.” – Dr Sarah Powell, Clinical Lead at SignHealth.   

“Mental health support is vital – too many Deaf people have unnecessarily lost their loved ones. NHS England funding therapy in sign language directly is terrific news for the Deaf community in England, and I’m just so thrilled that SignHealth has been awarded this contract. More still needs to be done to keep chipping away at the barriers that Deaf people face but this is an important step forward.”

– Lucindha Lhathini Lawson, mental health campaigner

“We are so proud of this achievement. This is a truly ground-breaking step forwards for Deaf services in England. The NHS is listening and taking action to address the structural barriers Deaf people face.” – James Watson-O’Neill, Chief Executive at SignHealth.   

— ENDS — 

For media enquiries or comment:  

Laura Woodbury – SignHealth Communications and Digital Content Manager, lwoodbury@signhealth.org.uk

Notes to Editors:  
  • Talking Therapies (previously referred to as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT)) is an NHS England programme for treatment of adult anxiety disorders and depression. An NHS Talking Therapies service complies with requirements for providing evidence-based therapy, routinely monitoring outcomes and supporting practitioners with outcomes focused supervision.   
  • NICE Guidelines Update: In November 2021 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) proposed updated guidance related to depression in adults. The draft guidance suggests patients with less severe depression should be offered therapy, exercise, mindfulness or meditation before antidepressants. SignHealth welcomes this change in the guidance as a more long-term and wholistic approach to treating and managing depression.   
  • SignHealth Psychological Therapy Service: If you would like to learn more or refer yourself for therapy, please visit SignHealth’s website for more information – signhealth.org.uk/therapy  
    Text 07966 976747  
    Email therapy@signhealth.org.uk  
    Call 01494 687606  
  • SHOUT Crisis Text Service: If you are Deaf, struggling with your mental health and need to contact someone urgently, there is a free text service available 24/7 across the UK.   
    Text DEAF to 85258.   
    This text service is powered by SHOUT.   


Pink and purple logo for The Deaf health charity SignHealth

SignHealth is the Deaf health charity led by Deaf people at all levels of the organisation. We are dedicated to making sure Deaf people get equitable access to healthcare. We also provide services to improve Deaf people’s health and wellbeing.  

SignHealth has media-trained Deaf people who use British Sign Language to communicate, as well as access to registered BSL interpreters, ready to be interviewed to support this statement.  

For more information about SignHealth, visit signhealth.org.uk and follow us @SignHealth