Thousands of Deaf* patients are receiving inadequate healthcare because they are struggling to communicate with healthcare professions, say experts on bmj.com.
There is a basic lack of deaf awareness and appropriate communication support by healthcare professionals, write Michael Paddock and colleagues from Kings College London School of Medicine and South West London and St George's Mental Healthcare NHS Trust.
It is estimated that there are nearly nine million people in the UK who are hard of hearing —almost a sixth of the population. Yet studies have shown that 70% of Deaf patients have no interpreters in A&E consultations and 28% of Deaf people avoid going to see their general practitioner because of poor communication.
In particular, it is Deaf individuals with mental health problems that suffer, say the authors. Well over three million (up to 40%) Deaf people experience mental health problems at some point in their lives compared to one in four of the general population.
But evidence shows that an increase in the use of signed communication appears to be associated with a decrease in the prevalence of mental health problems.
The authors call for basic instruction in Deaf awareness and "appropriate communication tactics" to be added to the medical curriculum and taught to medical students to ensure that access to essential health services is not restricted for these individuals.
They point to a programme of Sensory Awareness development and training that is already part of the undergraduate medical curriculum at King's College London. The programme aims to equip students with the skills to enhance their communication with Deaf and hard of hearing patients, such as checking hearing aids and maximising communication with patients who lip-read. In addition, a special study module, 'Deaf Awareness and British Sign Language', is offered in year three.
If, as the General Medical Council claims, the undergraduate medical curriculum is to produce competent physicians who "listen to patients and respond to their concerns and preferences" and "give patients the information they want or need in a way they can understand", then other medical schools must follow the example of King's College, conclude the authors.
*The use of the term Deaf (with an uppercase D) is used to describe individuals who were born Deaf and whose preferred form of communication is British Sign Language.
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