Deaf awareness course for UWE Bristol healthcare students hailed by regional mayor

Media Relations Team, 08 March 2024

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Dan Norris posing for a photo with a large group

UWE Bristol’s move to train up future NHS workers in deaf awareness could help save lives regionally and nationally, according to West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris.

More than 270 students have taken the course at UWE Bristol led by members of the deaf community at Glenside campus in the last 12 months.

Ahead of Sign Language Week, Mr Norris said he was concerned that “communication is not just a challenge, it's a barrier” for deaf people navigating the NHS, particularly in crises, and when dealing with emergency services. He pointed to a recent example in Derby, where paramedics were unable to tell a deaf woman that her husband had died. Eventually she learned of her husband's death via a video call to her employer.

On a visit to Glenside campus, Mr Norris took the opportunity to join a deaf awareness course and receive training from deaf awareness expert Mark Gill, who is deaf and knows from personal experience the importance of NHS staff being able to communicate clearly with members of the deaf community.

Mr Gill said: “When booking a GP appointment, I still have to walk into the surgery to make the appointment due to the lack of accessibility of booking systems, which if you are unwell, is not ideal. Generally, no interpreter provision is made to ensure clear communication throughout the appointment, therefore adding to confusion and misdiagnosis. It is also not very time effective as I've had to ask the doctors to repeat themselves or write things down. This can sometimes lead to medication being prescribed incorrectly, which can be very dangerous.”

UWE Bristol's British Sign Language (BSL) Society organised the training after receiving a grant from the UWE Bristol Fund, supported by donations from alumni.

In response to the success of the training, the University is considering incorporating it into the entire healthcare curriculum to ensure the next generation of healthcare professionals are fully trained in this area. In addition, local health organisations and businesses have made enquiries about putting on the training for their staff.

Final year UWE Bristol paramedic student and President of the UWE BSL society, Daniel Hunt, said: “Working for the ambulance service, we often see people in very stressful situations and an important part of our job is effective communication and providing reassurance. As healthcare professionals, we really have an obligation to ensure we can communicate with the deaf community to offer them the same level of service that we offer to everyone.”

Mr Norris, whose West of England Mayoral Combined Authority is the regional body responsible for skills, said: “We need an NHS that fully accommodates the needs of deaf patients. These courses at UWE Bristol led by brilliant instructors like Mark are exactly the kind of courses we need to see scaled up and replicated nationwide to help deliver that change which will make a massive difference to the some 12 million deaf people in this country.

“Bravo to UWE’s British Sign Language society, and Centre for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People for delivering these vital courses training up student nurses, paramedics, midwives, radiographers, optometrists, physiotherapists, and more. They’re literally saving lives.”

Justin Smith, CEO of the Bristol-based Centre for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People, which is delivering the courses, added: “We have a vision of Bristol as a Deaf-friendly city, where communication is no longer a barrier for Deaf and hard of hearing people, and where everyone can feel part of the vibrant community that they live in today. This is why sessions such as our Deaf Awareness training is important so that more people develop an understanding of how to overcome communication barriers and to be able to adopt small changes in their workplace or service delivery, and within their communities, to make everything as inclusive as possible for Deaf and hard of hearing people.”

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