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MP praises innovative app to improve services for deaf people

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has given his backing to an innovative new scheme to help deaf people access crucial services in health and welfare.

The MP met with Formby businessman Jeff Earl who has developed a communication method using a QR code on a website, poster or letter linking to an online video which translates the information into British Sign Language.

Mr Earl’s QR codes are currently used on NHS 111 literature and in Merseycare’s mental health support and suicide reduction schemes, but Mr Esterson says this is not good enough and that the scheme should be used by more public services.

Mr Esterson said: “I was so impressed by the Signcodes and was horrified to learn of the difficulties deaf people face in accessing such simple information and services. It’s not good enough.”

British Sign Language users often have English as a second language therefore find reading and writing English difficult. This means often the only way they can access information is through a sign language interpreter. Signcode allows them to use their mobile phone to read a QR code which links to a video of a person giving the information using BSL.

The QR codes can be used on posters, such as in GPs’ surgeries, and correspondence, for example letters asking the person to attend an appointment at a Jobcentre or hospital. They can also be used to communicate with police to explain that a person uses BSL and is unable to communicate in other ways.

Mr Earl said: “The statistics show that the deaf community are at increased risk of ill-health, both physical and mental health. This is in large part due to an inability to access information and to communicate their needs. How does a BSL user speak in confidence to a health professional if they need a family member to interpret for them? It is not good enough.

“One in six people in the general population in the UK suffers from mental health issues. In the deaf community this rises to two in three. There are users of BSL who may have no other way to communicate. They may receive a letter from the DWP inviting them for a Work Assessment appointment but may be unable to read it.

“Placing one of our QR codes on the letter will mean the BSL user can receive the information in a way they fully understand. It’s a very cost-effective  way of meeting the statutory requirement of making reasonable adjustments for deaf people.”

Mr Earl says UK British Sign Language users are being let down, particularly by the NHS and DWP, organisations that owe deaf people a specific duty of care under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The Act imposes a duty on service providers to make reasonable adjustments to their policies, practices and premises and provide auxiliary aids to improve accessibility of services for disabled people.

Mr Esterson, the MP for Sefton Central, said: “This issue touches on so many important aspects of health, wellbeing and equality. It cannot be right that deaf people, who are more vulnerable to ill health and mental health issues, are not able to access basic help and information. This is costing lives.”

The deaf health charity SignHealth released a report in 2015 on the health of deaf people entitled “Sick Of It: How The Health Service Is Failing Deaf People”. It states that deaf people are as active as hearing people, eat a similar amount of vegetables, drink less alcohol and smoke far fewer cigarettes. However they more likely to be overweight, twice as likely to have high blood pressure, are four times as likely to be on the verge of diabetes and have a lower life expectancy. In addition to this, eight in 10 deaf people would like to communicate with healthcare professional using BSL but only three in 10 are given the opportunity to do so. The report said that missed diagnoses and poor treatment was costing the NHS £30m a year.

Mr Esterson said he would be writing to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to ask why this scheme isn’t being rolled out across the UK. He said: “Well done to Merseycare for embracing this technology for deaf people in my constituency. I’d like to see this in GPs’ surgeries and other public services across Sefton Central and the country.

“This lack of information and poor communication is impacting on the health of deaf people in the UK and I will write to the health secretary to ask why there has been a delay, when the technology is available, in extending this simple scheme to services across the UK.”

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