We wanted to find out about the experiences of people who are deaf, Deaf or hard of hearing when they try to access care from GP surgeries.

The aim of our research was to identify health inequalities that might affect deaf, Deaf and hard of hearing people so we could make recommendations on tackling them.

In this video, we present a summary of our research, findings and recommendations in British Sign Language (BSL).

You can read the same information beneath the short film, where you’ll also find a download link for the full report.

What we did

We asked people about their experiences of booking and attending appointments at their GP surgery in Buckinghamshire. 

In line with SignHealth guidance, we used the terms ‘deaf’, ‘Deaf’ and ‘hard of hearing’ as follows when we designed our research questions and reported our findings:  

  • deaf – used to describe or identify anyone who has a severe hearing problem 
  • Deaf – used to refer to people who have been deaf all their lives, or since before they started to learn to talk 
  • hard of hearing – used to describe people with less severe hearing problems. 

We developed a survey which was online from 7 February to 30 April 2023. This was publicised via social media, as well as through community and service providers’ newsletters. We also held three focus groups. 

Altogether, 90 people who were deaf, Deaf or hard of hearing told us about their experiences of accessing GP surgery care in Bucks.

Key findings

Communication basics

  • We found that most people want to communicate with GP surgery staff in their first language. This includes people whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL).
  • Few people knew they could ask for their GP records to be ‘flagged’ with their communication needs. 
  • Many were frustrated by having to remind people inside the surgery (and then in secondary care if they were referred) that they had a degree of hearing loss. 
  • Few Deaf people had experience of BSL interpreters in a GP surgery. They said it took too long to book, and/or that SignLive or similar apps were not generally used. Most said they’d prefer to have a BSL interpreter present at an appointment. 

Making appointments

  • Many people who are hard of hearing or Deaf find making appointments by phone or receiving speech calls from GP surgeries difficult. 
  • People who were able to communicate with their GP surgeries by text, and whose surgeries responded in a timely way, found communication between appointments straightforward.  
  • While booking appointments online was an option for some, not everyone could do this. People also told us that this was not suitable for urgent, same day appointments which could only be obtained by phone.  

Attending appointments

  • Half of the people we spoke to were happy with the use of speech at an appointment, as many could lip read or took someone to help them. However, several wanted to know why technology such as hearing loops or apps such as SignLive could not be routinely offered.  
  • While several people asked family members, friends and/or social workers to help them book appointments and/or communicate with medical staff, some felt this did not allow them to keep aspects of their medical history private.  
  • Some people told us that not being able to communicate in a way that suited them left them confused, frustrated or ill-informed. Some people felt the experience affected their self-esteem in a negative way. 
  • Many people felt surgery staff were not deaf aware. People told us many members of staff did not give them enough time to communicate. Staff might obscure their mouths with masks, sit so they were backlit or have their face pointed away from the patient, making it difficult to lip read.

Our recommendations

We recommend that Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Integrated Care Board (BOB ICB) encourages Buckinghamshire GP surgeries to sign up to the Healthwatch Bucks Deaf and Hard of Hearing GP Practice Charter 

This sets out a commitment to reducing inequalities in access to GP surgery care that may affect people who are Deaf, deaf or hard of hearing.

The Charter should be displayed in the GP practice and on its website.

By signing up to this Charter, GP practices would show that they are committed to meeting their requirements under the Accessible Information Standard.

NB This charter has been updated to reflect the fact that network lines are the responsibility of the ICB rather than the GP practice. Whilst the network infrastructure has been recently modernised, the reliability of it is not within the remit of an induvial GP practice.


GP surgery care when you’re Deaf, deaf or hard of hearing

Healthwatch Bucks Deaf and Hard of Hearing GP Practice Charter

BOB ICB’s response to our report

Published on 7 Jun, 2023 (updated 5 Jun, 2024)

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