Communicating with the NHS – any progress?

Copyright: mybaitshop / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: mybaitshop / 123RF Stock Photo

Audience participation time – that is, if you live in England.  A while ago I wrote about a new piece of legislation applying to the NHS in England (and indeed care homes, although I am concentrating on the NHS today).  A new Accessible Information Standard means that, since 31 July, all parts of the NHS have been obliged to ask all new and existing patients whether or not they have any communication difficulties – caused by hearing loss for example. Ta da! What an excellent thing! Visibility!

If you have, the health provider is meant to record the problem, and, in future, provide the help that you need to access the service.  Ta Da!  Another excellent thing!  Action!

Bugbears about NHS communication problems abound in hearing loss blogs, Facebook pages and so on  – not being able to hear when your name is called for your appointment, not fully understanding what the doctor said, having to phone to make an appointment when you can no longer cope with the telephone etc.   You can read all this explained a little more fully  in an earlier post (please don’t gesture at me) including the details of what the legislation says the NHS has to do.

Three months in, Action on Hearing Loss are trying to find out what impact the legislation has had, so they can report this back to NHS England before they review the impact of the Standard early next year.

My own experience??

Because I doggedly tell all medical people about my hearing loss immediately I see them (“Good morning Mrs Brearey – take a seat”.  “Thanks, may I just explain that I’m very deaf?  I need to see your face to understand what you are saying because I lip read”) it seemed a bit unfair to point out that the nurse at our local practice hadn’t asked me about communication problems.  But I thought I’d ask at Reception on the way out, where I got a complete blank look and “never heard of it – what did you say this legislation is about?”  (She did say she was quite new to the job).

Then on Monday I had a blood test taken at my local hospital.  They have quite a good (hearing loss friendly) system in their blood test waiting room.  You take a ticket when you go in and a contraption at the front of the room tells you which number is currently being seen (or “being bled” as they call it in the notices telling you what the system is – odd! – even weirder is that the notice is decorated with vampires……).  Then, when it’s your turn, the display changes to show your number at the same time as the nurse calls it out, so all quite easy for us deaf people.

Then you follow the nurse into the treatment room (should it be the bleeding room?) and she says ……. “something, something, something” because she has her back to you.

Another “may I explain that I’m very deaf?  blah-di-blah” and all was well.  I was bled successfully!  I then asked about the Accessible Information Standard.  Had she heard of it?  She had a vague recollection of having heard of the term, but couldn’t recall what it meant.  When I described it she was very enthusiastic and said that she would very much welcome a system that alerted her in advance to people with hearing loss so that she didn’t, as she put it, “mumble away with my back turned”.  Wonderful!  All we need to do now is implement this system.  (Why is everything so difficult?)

On the way home I remembered that both the appointment with the nurse at the GP practice and the one at the hospital were part of the system of NHS five yearly health checks for people aged 40 to 74.  Surely one of the checks should be whether the person has any hearing issues or other communication problems?  And surely they should at the very least provide posters for waiting rooms, so that people know what their rights are and are prompted to ask for the help they need?

This is where you can help.  Have you been to the doctor, or an NHS England hospital since 31 July?  If so, did they ask about any hearing problems (or indeed other communication problems) you might be having?  Did you see any posters?  Any examples of really good practice??  Or did nothing happen at all?

Remember, they are meant to ask EVERYONE, not just people they suspect have a problem.  So – to the many readers of this blog with normal hearing – THIS APPLIES TO YOU TOO.  It would be really helpful if you could let me know what (if anything) happened when you came into contact with the NHS since 31 July (leave a comment below).  I’ll pass a copy of this post plus responses to Action on Hearing Loss.  The more feedback the NHS receives the more likely it is that the legislation will be properly implemented.




14 thoughts on “Communicating with the NHS – any progress?

  1. Hi Vera. My appointments are few and far between with my doctors but as I had an appointment last week I completed the form from Action on Hearing Loss. I can bypass the receptionist as there is an automated check in screen so my first face to face was with the GP. This is where the problem started. The ceilings in the consultation rooms are very high and coupled with all the hard surfaces hearing is very difficult. I mentioned this to the GP and that I am profoundly deaf but added to the fact he was already running half an hour late he did not speak to me any differently but did sympathise about the acoustics of the room. On the way out I handed the completed form to the receptionist who gave me the impression she had not seen one before, so will have to see if any changes have been made when I next visit. I must emphasise that the surgery are quite willing for my husband to talk on the phone on behalf of me so maybe they already have my details marked in their yellow flag system.

    1. Hello Patricia. Thanks for the feedback. I think GP surgeries seem to be missing that they need to be the proactive ones here, and to check again even if they have people on their flag system already, but hopefully the message will get through eventually. Best wishes. Vera

  2. Hi Vera
    I filled in a form provided by Action on Hearing Loss in their magazine indicating my communication needs and dropped it off, as instructed, at my GP’s a few weeks ago but haven’t been back to test it yet. However I do have a big advantage in the shape of my constant companion Elmo, a large black lab hearing dog wearing his official jacket which gives most (though ny no means all) people a clue. Though sad to say some people (usually in the hospitality field rather than the medical one) are all too hasty in rushing forward to tell me dogs aren’t allowed before I have to point out his official assistance dog status. So no system is infallible unfortunately. But we will all persevere in raising deaf awareness 🙂

    1. You’re right. If we all keep plugging away it helps the message get through. It’s just that sometimes I wish I didn’t have so many battles to fight!

  3. Our NHS drop in hearing aid clinic still has no visual calling system. Staff simply pop out of a door and shout. Given there are also pillars by the door, even lip reading a shouted number is difficult. Cue everyone checking their numbered cards with each other to check who’s next. Why on earth they can’t use the electronic board is beyond me; oh yes, it’s been acquired to show TV! It would be so simple to have duplicate set of large numbers and hold them up…

    1. Hello Hilary. It’s pretty bad when audiology can’t get it right, isn’t it? If THEY can’t have a sensible system for alerting their own patients who can? My local audiology is very good, but when my husband and I used to take his mum to an audiology in the Midlands it was dreadful and, yes, there was a screen in the corner showing TV – with the sound on, so another reason not to be able to hear your name being called.

    2. I would say my doctors surgery have got their set up to perfection and every other one in the country should follow what they have done.
      I make all my appointments on line. This shows me the time and dates my doctor is available. Once I have booked I make my way to the surgery on the booked day. At the entrance is a computer where I check in my details. The computer asks for my date of birth it then shows my name, Doctors name, time of appointment and asks to confirm the details are correct. I the enter the waiting area. I don’t even have to speak to the receptionist. On the wall behind the receptionist is a large tv screen. This is not showing any tv programmes but gives information about the NHS. It is not a single picture but keeps changing. It does give out lots of information about the NHS and what is available. When the doctor is ready to see any patient the screen changes giving the patients name followed by ‘to see doctor xxx in room xx.
      This is perfect and I can’t see any other surgery doing any better

      1. That sounds fantastic. I wonder if there are ways that GP surgeries spread good practice amongst themselves? If so, I would have thought this should definitely be a candidate for a system to emulate.

  4. I’ve had quite a few GP and hospital appointments over the last few months and none have asked if I have communication difficulties. I do usually say upfront that I have a hearing loss and may not catch everything they say. I was pleased that when I said this at an appointment last week, the consultant asked if I’d heard his name and promptly reintroduced himself.

    1. Hello Deborah. Thanks for the feedback. It seems as though getting this legislation filtered through to the front line is very patchy, but at least your consultant was helpful.

  5. A few years ago I attended my local CCQ meeting and told everyone present that if they are able to deal with one deaf person don’t think that will apply to all the others. They must access each and every deaf person they meet to see which was the best way to communicate with them. Since that day wherever I went they were ready for me even if I hadn’t seen them before. All hospital appoint letters state that if you need communication help you need to tell them beforehand. I have never asked but when they see me they are ready for me

    1. Hello Victor. I completely agree about not assuming one size fits all and I’m impressed that your CCQ meeting triggered good results. Many thanks. Vera

  6. Last time I attended my surgery the receptionist asked me if I had any problems with communication and I indicated that I was deaf. She was typing away on her computer and told me that my details had been updated to include the fact that I was deaf and had communication problems. Have not been back since so don’t know if it has worked!!

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