In March 2020, as lockdown came into effect and services across the country switched to phone consultations, Deaf people needed a solution fast to address this new barrier to healthcare in the UK.
The Deaf health charity SignHealth launched a free on-demand 24/7 remote interpreting service called BSL Health Access, in partnership with the company, InterpreterNow, to enable Deaf people access to medical services over the phone, free of charge.
When BSL Health Access launched, SignHealth optimistic that NHS England or another government body would pay for the service in order to make phone consultations accessible to Deaf people. In the meantime, SignHealth invested £800,000 from their own reserves to kickstart the service and ensure Deaf people were not left waiting. Late in 2020, the NHS agreed to cover the running costs from December to the end of March 2021 to ensure the service continued into the winter while the NHS reviewed British Sign Language (BSL) provision more broadly. SignHealth have been told that that review is not yet complete.
After investing £800,000 from their reserves, SignHealth are unable to cover the costs of the service. The NHS has not committed any further funding for April 1st onwards, effectively closing the service of BSL Health Access.
James Watson-O’Neill, SignHealth Chief Executive, said:
“I am incredibly proud of what BSL Health Access has achieved and I will always be grateful to SignHealth’s deaf-led Board of Trustees for approving such a significant investment to fund this innovation. I hope that we can work together with NHS England and individual NHS providers to find a long-term sustainable solution. Access to health services is a right, not a privilege. Deaf people, whose health is already poorer than hearing people’s, deserve excellent access to health care in British Sign Language.”
Response to BSL Health Access closing
Andrew Dewey, CEO, InterpreterNow, said:
“SignHealth and InterpreterNow are incredibly proud of the service we provided to enable access to healthcare during the pandemic. Over 25,000 conversations were interpreted over the last year through BSL Health Access, and Deaf people have told us the service was ‘life-saving’. We are incredibly disappointed and gravely concerned that the Deaf community could be left without any BSL access in health care settings during the pandemic and beyond.”
BSL Health Access enabled important conversations at hospice centres with the Deaf relatives of people at the end of their lives. Vital conversations happened at hospitals (18% of the conversations) where Deaf patients were unable to have interpreters or family members present due to social distancing restrictions. 61% of conversations were to and from GPs. Urgent conversations were also held with emergency services at homes with sick babies and elderly family members.
Rebecca Mansell, SignHealth Director of Communications & Fundraising said:
“As it stands, BSL Health Access will be switched off at midnight on 31st March 2021. BSL Health Access is now in the hands of the NHS and we call for NHS England to continue to fund this vital service, fast.”
A petition has been set up asking the NHS to fund BSL Health Access.
ATR Comment: Reverting to state support of media updating is long overdue, none of these deaf charities or HoH ones have the wherewithal to replace a legal right of access anyway. The ongoing issue of appalling bad management by deaf UK charities and the 'off loading' of deaf and HoH support to charity will only continue to result in huge gaps and shortfalls of welfare and help for those with hearing loss.
Using the begging bowl to provide what is a legal right, it was a stupid system to accept by deaf and HoH anyway, the state saw them coming. This was the state conning greedy charity to 'serve their own' on a shoestring, all we saw was relentless campaigns for more and more money, and for more and more support, because there will never be enough for a national charitable setup, the RNID e.g. knew and pulled out. Charitable support is/was a joke, despite deaf and HoH being served 'By their own people', nobody ensured they were qualified to run deaf support, or able to operate a national system. Sitting in an office doing a video is hardly a vital service provision and how many use it? With handouts, it was never on and the state gets to blame charity for it all. Deaf have 'Mugs' printed on their forehead.
Charity is also immune to concern being expressed when they screw up or discriminate as well. Again supported by the state to do that, because the state doesn't want the flak from the WOKE worshippers. Some deaf charities are run like some sort of secret society, except they are a step up from funny handshakes... The deaf charities particularly were and are awful, operating and existing in a vacuum and blind to reason in most part, too many amateurs whose only qualification is they know some sign language, they obtained and wasted £millions to no real advance for their own areas, lost 100s of deaf their jobs, built a conveyor belt to ensure trustees were evident, and grassroots lost support and jobs when they folded because they can't manage to fund and ran culture gigs instead of basic support for deaf people, obliquely saying that onus was the state's not theirs. So why are THEY asking for funds to do it? Get a grip.
They continue to exist because the state doesn't want to carry the can for their neglect. On the face of it, SignHealth provides a vital service of a kind but reliant on handouts it can not deliver and doesn't for non-signers anyway which is the other side of a very bad coin. Using a charity means the NHS doesn't have to provide themselves, which apparently is another plus for these charities to attack the NHS for not doing what the charity is taking money for THEM to do! The NHS would obviously need a lot more money than a charitable handout to provide a proper service, so it's clear handouts aren't working. It's like a deaf version of 'The Money Pit' where endless cash is needed to build a house that swallows money faster than any black hole and then falls down anyway. Any other business would have folded years ago.
ATR flies in the face of deaf and HoH DIY and says drop charity and demand the access, inclusion and rights laws start delivering. Given the uncertainty of funding to provide services, state doing their moral and ethical duty is long overdue, we can at least then get a reliable system of hearing loss support to work and lobby at, not, trading off communication preferences and culture gigs that swallow up funds and provide NO support of real note and pits one communication format against others. The Charity Commission doesn't even validate if charities are inclusive or run properly.
£m's are being wasted on ventures that do not provide real help just indulge in random projects. Regardless IF SignHealth provides a vital service, it is a STATE responsibility. Campaigns go from one area and ignore inclusion for others, charities polarise (Or not depending on where the cash is most likely to be had). 10m HoH have no national support set up at all, the odd few 1,000 signers have no issue getting what they want be it support about their daily lives or fostering their cultural aims, it's just their poor relationship with the inclusion that is the issue, state support would equalise we can lobby the state far easier than we can challenge charities messing it all up.
It's not factually true the NHS does not provide BSL support, it is the ONLY support they offer deaf people, the issue is Covid currently, and free-lance and unmoderated BSL interpreter help, and their issues with regular employment and pay, there are also issues from deaf who prefer face to face not video help. Is SignHealth saying the deaf cannot or doesn't have a choice? Can only use theirs? We've used BSL support with the NHS for years. It is the refusal to support HoH that is a problem. As regards to a pandemic, we are all in the doo doo. Adapt.
The state could ensure e.g. a national support set up that worked on an inclusive basis and develop support for areas of hearing loss totally ignored at present. Mainstreaming deaf children is a good start, now we need to mainstream support. The NHS actually does provide signed output and captions, so why are we paying SignHealth as well? 'Jobs for boys/gals'?