Logo for Signhealth, the deaf charity

Search the site

Acknowledging the ineffective communication for deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users in health settings across England, NHS England and NHS Improvement commissioned a Rapid Review in November 2020. This aimed to look at Interpreting provision across the NHS Health sector in England.

Released today, the review’s recommendations require actions to be undertaken by NHS England, NHS 111 and at the Integrated Care System (ICS). These actions aim to improve the quality and consistency of BSL interpreting provision across the NHS to ensure the needs of deaf BSL users are met.

Measures to combat the pandemic created a serious and disproportionate impact on deaf people, affecting their mental health, increasing isolation and the ability to access even the most basic healthcare. The use of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) meant deaf people were unable to communicate with staff, preventing access to lip-reading or even basic facial cues. Health providers turned to remote consultations in order to minimise the spread of Covid-19, without understanding how this would impact deaf patients and service users. Very quickly it became evident that many of the platforms used by services were ill-equipped to meet the needs of BSL users creating a huge health gap and depriving many of essential health services. These issues further exacerbated the barriers deaf people faced, before the pandemic, when accessing services and booking interpreters.

SignHealth welcomes the long-awaited recommendations and believes, if implemented by every ICS, significant improvements would be made in the experience for deaf people accessing health services in England. Despite this, the charity remains concerned about funding and if there will be any enforcement or incentive for ICSs to follow these recommendations. SignHealth has also raised some very practical concerns that have not been fully addressed, in particular, the NHS 111s Video Relay Services (VRS) Interpreting provision; its process, application and limitations of the current system. This led to the implementation of BSL Health Access in April 2020, which looked to ensure that deaf people were not disadvantaged when it came to getting in touch with health providers but is no longer in service now.

“The review has clearly highlighted the issues deaf people are experiencing accessing healthcare through the NHS. Research carried out by SignHealth in 2014 (Sick of It report) uncovered the dramatic health inequality experienced by deaf people in the UK. Health economists at the University of East Anglia estimate that deaf people’s misdiagnosis and poor treatment is costing the NHS an additional £30m a year.

It is hoped that this review, its recommendations and advocacy support (in BSL alongside a lived experience panel in each ICS), will go some way towards initiating long term, significant change in the health system. Change that improves how Deaf people access Health services in the future.” – James Watson-O’Neill, Chief Executive, SignHealth


NHS Statement:

Learn more on the FutureNHS website – Registration is required to view

Notes to Editors :

For media enquiries or comments
Laura Woodbury, Communications Manager, email lwoodbury@signhealth.org.uk

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 the same sort of access to healthcare and health information and we provide services to improve Deaf people’s health and wellbeing. 

We have 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 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at: @SignHealth