News4th December 2013

New Welsh Standards Set to Transform Services

New communication standards in Wales have the potential to change NHS service delivery beyond recognition

by Sarah Lawrence

The 5th December 2013 is set to mark a special day for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in Wales. In due course, we hope the brave stance being taken by the Welsh Assembly Government will go on to be of benefit to deaf people around the UK and further afield.

Tomorrow at 12pm Mark Drakeford AM, Minister for Health, will be formally launching new standards of communication across the whole of the NHS for people with sensory loss. Having been part of the group that helped design the standards and subsequently doing the BSL video translation of them to ensure accessibility for Deaf BSL users, I am of the view that effective implementation will be a landmark moment for deaf users of NHS services who have long suffered severe barriers to proper treatment by the NHS.

Historically, the NHS has a poor record in responding to a deaf person's communication needs. Despite the knowledge held within NHS Services in Audiology Departments and other units, deaf patients have systematically suffered appalling neglect both in primary and particularly in secondary care. These range from difficulties in getting an interpreter, lack of deaf friendly information and not understanding about the need for an impending operation to steadfast refusal to communicate through any means other than telephone. Quite frankly, the NHS stance towards deaf people up to this point has been brutal.

SL First warmly welcomes the formal introduction of the new standards and we will be working tirelessly with partners and other interested groups to ensure everyone now plays their part in raising awareness amongst the 530 000 Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in Wales about what they should expect, as well as holding the Minister and his Government colleagues to account for delivery of the standards by the Health Boards.

We commend the Welsh Assembly Government for being brave and ambitious with this programme. It represents their response to a Report they commissioned on the issues faced by people with sensory loss several years ago. The extent of the standards represents a significant uplift to what currently exists across the NHS and their task now is to ensure delivery by Local Health Boards right the way across Wales.

Under the new standards, people should have their sensory loss properly considered in any part of the NHS and appropriate action taken to make sure effective communication can then take place. No ifs or buts, no whys or wherefores. No, who's going to pay? No longer should I have to drop on bended knee to beg for a BSL/English interpreter. No longer should a friend of mine be in hospital for 12 weeks before a doctor tells her what's wrong with her with an interpreter present. No longer should my GP Practice manager say to me, "stop using the practice email address, that is for internal purposes only!"

Whilst I applaud the introduction of the standards, my major concern is about how the authorities will tell all of the people in Wales who have a sensory loss that these new standards exist. I am looking forward to hearing what Mark Drakeford AM says about this tomorrow at the launch. Without an effective communication strategy, Mr Drakeford will be letting the NHS off the hook and the standards will risk falling into an aspirational/well intentioned black hole. If he and his Government are serious about driving the much needed change, I expect to be blown away tomorrow at the launch by the steps that are going to be taken to promote them.

A copy of the "All Wales Standards for Accessible Communication and Information for people with loss" (catchy name I know) can be accessed at:

To view the BSL clips of the new standards go to:

The good news is that the Westminster Government have started work on developing similar standards in England. Apparently less ambitious in scope and more limiting in service change, we hope some England v Wales rivallry kicks in and that the early jitters are replaced by bold intentioons to move the Welsh Standards on even further. SL First will be watching with interest.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / News

4th December 2013