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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 06:49 GMT
Doctors training in sign language
Deaf person
The needs of deaf people are being addressed
Junior doctors in Northern Ireland are being trained in sign language so they can communicate with the deaf.

A specialist course is being offered during their medical training at Queen's University in Belfast.

The course, which also includes training in deaf awareness, is being run in association with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.

The students will produce a sign language dictionary on topics such as thyroid disease and pregnancy.

It is thought one in seven people a doctor encounters during his or her career will be deaf or have hearing problems.

However, research carried out by RNID in 2004 suggested that more than a third of deaf and hard of hearing patients were unclear about their condition because of communication problems with their GP.

Director of RNID NI, Brian Symington, said the course was "incredibly important", with an increasing number of students taking the module

"RNID NI is campaigning for equality in healthcare provision for thousands of deaf and hard of hearing people," he said.

"Having doctors who are able to communicate effectively with their deaf and hard of hearing patients is a major step forward in making healthcare services in Northern Ireland accessible."

Dr Jayne Woodside, head of the specialist module on deafness at Queen's University, said: "This is an important opportunity for the QUB medical students to develop deaf awareness and communication skills, and we are very keen to both maintain and develop these links with RNID."

Since 2003, 60 students have successfully completed the course at Queen's.

The sign language dictionary which they produce for health professionals will deal with common ailments.

Each year, the students add new chapters to the dictionary as part of their coursework and the students themselves, in photographs within the dictionary, illustrate the signs.

There are 219,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in Northern Ireland, according to the RNID.

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