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Thousands of deaf patients “struggling to access basic healthcare”

1 October 2008

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Thousands of deaf patients are receiving inadequate healthcare because they are struggling to communicate with healthcare professions, according to leading medical experts.

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, in an article published on today.

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 28% of deaf people avoid going to see their GP because of poor communication.

In particular, it is deaf individuals with mental health problems that suffer, say the authors. More than 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.


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