Audiology services for deaf children – a review of the past five years

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Continuing our series of blogs on the upcoming election, this blog takes a look at the government’s record on health and audiology services in England.

What’s changed?

One of the big changes over the past five years has been the Health and Social Care Act 2012. It’s fair to say that this got a rocky ride through Parliament, with some seeing it as another top-down reorganisation of the NHS and others seeing it as necessary to make the NHS more streamlined, less bureaucratic and patient-centred.

In terms of structures, deaf children and their families may not have noticed many changes in terms of where audiology services sit and who does what. But behind the scenes there have been lots of changes in funding and organisational arrangements, leading to uncertainty and confusion over how the changes impact on audiology services.

There have also been changes to how audiology services are checked to ensure that they’re providing a good service. The existing quality assurance programme, which looked at the patient journey from screening of babies for a hearing loss to diagnosis and audiological support and other support, has been scrapped. For audiology services, this has been replaced by an accreditation scheme called Improving Quality in Physiological diagnostic Services (IQIPs). Unfortunately, IQIPs isn’t mandatory and there is a lack of transparency over how has applied for accreditation. This means that parents of deaf children now have less information about the quality of local audiology services.

Are deaf children getting the support they need?

This matters because there are increasing concerns over whether those audiology services are doing everything they should to ensure deaf children get the best possible support. Before the old quality assurance programme was scrapped, it was found that 1 in 3 audiology services were failing to meet basic government standards. We have no real idea whether that has got any better – or worse.

On top of that, NDCS is increasingly being contacted by parents saying that they are noticing cutbacks in audiology, some of which are set out in the NDCS Listen Up! campaign report. These range from having to wait long times for ear moulds or delays in diagnosis, to being denied funding for specialist auditory implants. Even small things, like offering coloured earmoulds are being cutback, even though this can really encourage deaf children to wear their hearing aids and make the most of their hearing.

Deaf awareness

Deaf young people also tell us that deaf awareness in health settings also remains an ongoing issue, as set out in the NDCS My life, My Health report. The good news is that NHS England has started to wrestle with this issue and a new accessible information standard, is expected to be launched next year. As part of this, all NHS settings, including GPs, will be expected to do more to meet the communication needs of deaf people.

As with education, trying to do justice to five years of health policy in a single blog is a challenge and the above does not attempt to cover everything or even to touch on wider changes that impact on all children. Again though, we hope it provides some food for thought though. Let us know what you think about our summary evaluation by leaving a comment below.

10 things GPs in Wales should do for deaf patients

Elin

Elin Wyn, Policy and Campaigns Officer for Wales

Did you know that deaf people in Wales have certain rights when they go to see their doctor?

The NHS in Wales has published a set of Standards on Accessible Communication and Information for People with Sensory Loss. These standards tell GPs and hospitals what they should be doing to make sure deaf people hear and understand everything they need to know about their healthcare needs. This should make it easier for deaf young people to become more independent when they visit the GP. And to make life easier for you here are 10 things GPs in Wales SHOULD be doing to help deaf patients:

1)   Asking patients what communication needs they have.

2)   Setting up a flagging system to record that information on the patient’s paper or computer record.

3)   Checking that the environment encourages effective communication – e.g. checking lighting and background noise

4)   If a patient is referred from the GP to a hospital the GP should also transfer information about their communication needs.

5)   Patients should be able to make appointments in different ways e.g. by email, texting, textphones and websites.

6)   The GP reception and consulting rooms should be fitted with a hearing loop and staff should know how to check they are working.

7)   Reception staff should have arrangements in place to make sure deaf people don’t miss their appointment.

8)   Every patient who needs communication support should have it – and it’s the GP practice that should arrange this and that pays for this support.

9)   All staff should be trained in how to communicate effectively with deaf people

10)   The GP practice should promote the different forms of communication that are available to deaf patients.

These standards are a part of your rights as a deaf young person in Wales. If your GP doesn’t do these things you can complain to the Local Health Board that your GP practice is not sticking to the Standards on Accessible Communication.

For advice for deaf young people on visiting the GP independently have a look at our “My life my health” resources.

My life, my health: a new campaign is launched

Danni Manzi, Danni Manzi, Deputy Director of Policy and Campaigns NDCS

Danni Manzi, Deputy Director of Policy and Campaigns

NDCS has kick started a new health campaign, called: My life, My health.

The aim of the campaign is to improve healthcare experiences for deaf children and young people. NDCS launched this campaign, alongside its Young People’s Advisory Board (more about them later) because deaf young people told us that too many doctors were not deaf aware and information was inaccessible and, together, this was having a knock on effect on deaf young people’s independence.

The launch brought together deaf young people, parents, professionals and Paralympians (yes, Ben Rushgrove was there too!) to learn about the campaign, to share the resources and the good practice which can really make a big difference to deaf young people’s lives.

Telling it like it is

What we, in Policy and Campaigns, particularly love about this campaign is that it was led by our Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB), a group of deaf young people from across the UK who work to identify and address issues that affect all deaf young people.

YAB members spoke at the launch and their words really hit home. When Adam, a YAB member, used to go to his doctor everything was relayed to him through a family member. He explained it “made me feel blocked out of the conversation”. He went on to say that with small changes to the service things have really improved and that the YAB members want everyone to realise “just how simple it is to talk to us”.

What was particularly disappointing is that despite huge technological advances that make accessing services easier for everybody, not just deaf young people, these advances don’t seem to have followed through into healthcare services as much as they should. Young people told us that despite having the ability to email straight from their phones, many GP practices still don’t have appointments by email available for patients. And this needs to change.

No holding back

However, what was also refreshing about yesterday was that, rather than sitting around blaming people, we celebrated the services that are deaf aware and those that have made access to information simpler and easier. We also acknowledged that we all had a role to play in improving health services for deaf young people across the UK. The Paralympian, Ben Rushgrove, put it perfectly when he said: “People should learn to take the jump. There’s no point in having a situation where you are always holding yourself back.” We agree. Nobody- young people, parents or professionals- should hold back when it comes to doing better for deaf children and young people, and that’s exactly what this campaign is all about.

My Life My Health: Find out more

Download and share the resources, visit The Buzz.

If you live in England, let the chair of your Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) know about My life, My health. Take action here.