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More can be done to help Norfolk patients with hearing loss

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A new report by Healthwatch Norfolk has concluded GP surgeries in the county can do more to help patients who are deaf or have hearing loss.

This was the conclusion of a study which looked at whether digital technology could help improve accessibility for people.

It found those who are deaf or affected by hearing loss can have difficulty making appointments, knowing when they are called to see the doctor in the waiting room, and communicating with their GP.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. (54637448)
Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. (54637448)

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: "One of our major priorities over the next 18 months is ensuring patients get the information and help they need in the way that is best for them.

"The surgeries who piloted this technology and got feedback from patients have reported some positive results.

"This is a positive step away from people being unable to find out when an appointment is or being able to understand what a GP or health professional is saying to them.

Doctor audiologist and hearing aid on a table (54194702)
Doctor audiologist and hearing aid on a table (54194702)

"This has been a great example of working together with a health organisation to make things better for parents and we will support them as they continue to encourage and help other surgeries ensure their communication with patients who are deaf or have hearing loss improves.

"It links in with Healthwatch England’s national Your Care Your Way campaign to make sure people get the support they need in the way that works best with them and we will be continuing to work with organisations giving health and social care to ensure this happens."

Patients felt visual display screens in the waiting room were useful, and a trial of various types of technology also got positive feedback, especially personal listener devices.

Those who used vibrating pagers, portable hearing loops, which are a sound system for people with hearing aids, and a personal listener which helps increase the volume of speech, felt they were helpful during a pilot at eight Norfolk and Waveney GP surgeries.

The Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which commissioned the study also funded hearing loss and deaf awareness training for the same pilot surgeries with staff saying it helped them understand and improve their communication with patients.

The project also created a hearing loss and deaf friendly charter, a document sets up good practice when communicating with deaf patients and patients with hearing loss.

It recommends that appointments are given in a format that works well, records are updated detailing accessibility needs, and hearing loss champions are in place at each surgery to make sure the charter is kept up to date and can help their colleagues with information and advice.

Healthwatch Norfolk has made a series of recommendations to the CCG’s digital team based on its research which will aim to promote the availability and chance for surgeries and practices to use the pagers, hearing loops and personal listeners, provide access to the hearing loss and deaf friendly charter and promote chances for staff to get additional training.

Also to ensure the legally binding accessible information standard, which ensures patients are communicated with in the best way for them, is used and to be aware of other places those with deaf or hearing loss can go for additional help if they need it.

It would encourage each surgery to appoint a hearing loss champion and collect feedback from patients who use any of the new digital technology and monitor staff awareness of the communication needs of patients.

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