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Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 23:42 GMT


Deaf 'let down by GPs'

Deaf schoolpupils - many feel isolated by society

GPs are inadvertently risking the lives of patients who are deaf or hard of hearing because they do not know how to communicate with them, a report has claimed.

James Strachan: "Deaf people have stopped going to their GPs"
The annual Breaking the Sound Barrier survey by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) also found a high percentage of deaf and hard of hearing people feel isolated because of their deafness.

According to the report, people with hearing problems feel they are often treated as stupid by the general public.

A signficant proportion of deaf and hard of hearing people said they had been the victim of abusive language or gestures.

The survey found that one in six deaf people avoid going to their GP because of communication problems and more than one in five (23%) said they had left a doctor's appointment unsure what was wrong with them.

One in six of the deaf and hard of hearing also said they had trouble in arranging a doctor's appointment.

Typical problems encountered by deaf and hard of hearing people included:

  • Doctors not looking at the patient when talking to them;
  • Doctors refusing to write things down;
  • In some cases doctors flatly refused to accept that the patient could not hear.

The attitude of doctors has led to a third of deaf and hard of hearing people having to rely on friends and relatives to interpret for them during appointments, some of which involve personal examinations.

The RNID said the results showed that deaf people were staying at home rather than seeking what could be vital treatment from their GP.

Research conducted by the RNID showed that many doctors were unaware of the problem.

A survey found that 87% of GPs thought they could communicate effectively with their deaf and hard of hearing patients.

Outrageous inequality

[ image: GP consultations can be fraught with difficulty]
GP consultations can be fraught with difficulty
RNID chief executive James Strachan said: "As a deaf person myself I am shocked but not totally surprised by the extent of the problem.

"It is outrageous to think that a deaf or hard of hearing person receives a lower standard of primary health care simply because of their hearing loss."

He added: "If I were a GP I would be extremely worried. The real irony is that when it comes to communication only a small amount of effort makes a world of difference.

"The sooner GPs wake up to this, the better."

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said it was discussing the needs of deaf people with the RNID.

RCGP chairman Professor Mike Pringle said it welcomed "the research done by the RNID and will continue to investigate the education and training needs of GPs in all areas.

"Raising awareness is an important part of our work, as is promoting the good work already being done by general practitioners."

The RNID survey also found:

  • More than seven out of 10 deaf and hard of hearing people say they feel isolated because of their hearing loss;
  • More than a third avoid meeting new people;
  • Almost half (46%) say they have given up trying to explain how to make communication easier;
  • Ninety-one per cent admitted admitting they have difficulty coping;
  • Fifty-nine per cent believe hearing people think they are stupid;
  • One in five has experienced abusive language or gestures.

There are 8.7m deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK.

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