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SignHealth has been working to improve the health and wellbeing of Deaf people for over 30 years.

Through research and input from the Deaf community we have identified the most damaging practices and shortfalls in health and social services and have taken action to change the status quo. Where necessary, we developed our own specialist services and resources to support Deaf people facing mental health, domestic abuse and other challenges today.

We also campaign to address wider systemic issues, whether that’s accessibility requirements, or drawing attention to the needs and health trends within the Deaf community.

For updates on our work and research, please consider subscribing to emails from SignHealth.

Collage of photos depicting different types of communication access to NHS health services

Review of the NHS Accessible Information Standard

Urgent priorities for change, informed by patients’ lived experience and NHS professionals.


Older reports

Deaf Health Report – Stage One

What is the Deaf Health Report?

In 2010 SignHealth began a major research project, looking at the health of Deaf people. This research is known as the Deaf Health Report and it formed stage 1 of the Sick of It Report (discussed below). The Deaf Health Report was based around an online survey about the health of Deaf people living in the UK in 2010 and 2011. It was the first major survey of its type in the UK. The report presents information about the demographic profile of Deaf respondents, their health, lifestyles and access to health services. 

What were the key findings?

The report contains a great deal of information that may be of interest to healthcare professionals and may inform future policy decisions. In particular it showed that Deaf respondents were less likely to rate their own health as being good, and were slightly more likely to have a long-standing condition than the general population. Yet despite this, when compared with other data, Deaf respondents reported less frequent use of health services for a range of reasons other than not needing the service. Key barriers for Deaf people in accessing health services were that they did not have an interpreter, that they had generally poor communication with health services and that they couldn’t arrange appointments easily. Overall, many Deaf respondents who would prefer to communicate using British Sign Language were unable to do so.

The survey suggested that Deaf people do not have equal health care to the rest of the population, and that health services in the UK need to do more to make reasonable adjustments to allow Deaf people equal access.

What recommendations did it make?

The Deaf Health Report made several recommendations, including:  

  • Health services should be responsible for the provision of, and payment for, registered sign language interpreters so they can communicate safely with Deaf people in primary and secondary healthcare settings. 
  • There is also a need for easier access to making healthcare appointments for Deaf people.
  • Deaf awareness training is likely to be needed for healthcare professionals to remind them of the relevant legislation, and for them to learn more about the culture, identity and language of Deaf people, to understand the extent of Deaf peoples’ problems in accessing health services and to identify ways of overcoming these problems in practice. 
  • Local commissioning groups should also make sure that Deaf people have a full and meaningful involvement in the planning, provision and monitoring of health services. 

Sick of It Report

How healthy are Deaf people?

Sick Of It is SignHealth’s ground-breaking report uncovering the health disparity Deaf people face in the UK. Published in 2014, the report has influenced policy and changed practices in the NHS to improve communication and reduce barriers.

Report: Sick Of It

Suicide in deaf populations

It’s well known that Deaf people are more likely than hearing people to suffer from depression or anxiety. However, not much is known about whether there is a higher rate of suicide among Deaf people.

With funding from the Big Lottery, we worked with Manchester University to make a detailed study to see whether there had been any research done into deaf suicide. The aim was to provide a summary of the literature on suicidal behaviour in deaf individuals and if possible to establish: 

  • How often deaf people committed suicide 
  • Whether there were any particular risk factors (i.e. what might make deaf people more likely to commit suicide) 
  • If there were any effective approaches to preventing suicide among deaf people
  • If the type of deafness made a difference (e.g. if the person was born deaf or became deaf – were there different risk factors?)

The study showed that – even internationally – there was no research that could be relied upon.

It highlighted that previous research has largely overlooked the issue of suicide in the deaf and hearing impaired population and that there is an overwhelming need for new comprehensive research in this area. This would improve understanding of the incidence, prevalence and risk factors for deaf people and identify effective prevention strategies for suicidal behaviour.

The concern is that without evidence of a higher suicide rate, there is little chance that health services will do much to focus on preventing suicide among deaf people. 

The full report, published in the Annals of Psychiatry, can be viewed here.

The Lancet Article 

A 2012 article published in The Lancet warned that Deaf people experience poorer mental health, and are likely to experience poorer physical health. The world’s leading medical journal recognised the health inequalities faced by Deaf people. 

The journal published a main article on mental health, a commentary piece which looked at health generally (made available in BSL), and an editorial. SignHealth’s former chief executive, Steve Powell, was a co-author of the commentary.

For updates on our work and research, please consider subscribing to emails from SignHealth.

Why does SignHealth provide specialist social care services?

Some Deaf people need additional support in order to live safely or carry out ordinary tasks.  This support is much more effective when delivered by staff who know BSL and understand Deaf culture.   
At SignHealth, we are working towards a future without barriers to good health and wellbeing for all Deaf people.