RCGP Hearing Friendly Practice Charter

There are 12 million people with hearing loss across the UK and this is estimated to increase to 15.6 million by 2035.

Research has shown that GPs and their practices need to implement changes, to improve accessibility and consultations for their patients with hearing impairment. We must anticipate and promote these adjustments rather than make them on a responsive basis.

The Charter suggests ways to reduce variations in accessibility to GP practices and ensure Deafness and hearing loss are considered across all aspects of primary care activity including consultations and continued care.

The Equality Act 2010, Accessible Information Standard 2016 and Care Quality Commission (CQC) provides a clear legal foundation for providing access to healthcare for people with hearing loss. The Department of Health and NHS England’s Action Plan on Hearing Loss (2015) also references the Standard and lists ‘improved access to wider health services’ as a key outcome measure for service improvement. However, findings still suggest that people with hearing loss still face challenges when accessing healthcare.

The RCGP Deafness and hearing loss spotlight project are excited to launch the Hearing Friendly Practice Charter. It’s a great way to make some simple but impactful changes in your workplace and consultation skills that will demonstrate to your patients and staff that you want hearing impaired patients to feel empowered in fully participating in their treatment and care.

Our Vision

The amount of people with hearing loss in UK is increasing rapidly and undiagnosed hearing loss can have a huge impact on their mental wellbeing. We understand that GPs play a crucial role for patients in recognising signs of hearing loss and referring appropriately and in a timely manner. Our vision is to help standardise the variations in accessibility to GP practices and ensure Deafness and hearing loss are considered across all aspects of primary care activity including consultations and continued care.

This initiative should bring together the practice team, patient groups and essentially take steps towards empowering hearing-impaired people to fully participate in their treatment and care.

In time, we want to foster a growing network of Hearing Friendly Practices, who will inspire, share and encourage practices locally and further afield to join them. 

What does it take to become a Hearing Friendly Practice?

Becoming a Hearing Friendly Practice is simple. Here are some suggestions:

Deaf Awareness Training

Provide deaf awareness training for practice staff including effective communication tips, types of communication support available and good practice. RCGP has accredited a ‘Deaf Awareness Online Training for Doctors’ course.

Accessibility

First ensure the record communication cards are filled out by the patients which will help you find out the patients preferred method of contacting the surgery. Ensure your practice has a range of ways for patients to contact their GP surgery and practice staff are trained in how to use these methods. Remembering that a patient who is deaf or has hearing loss may have difficulty hearing over the phone. Having policies and procedures in place to enable communication support such as BSL interpreting services to be booked as and when required.

Communication

Implementing technology within the practice that can help improve the patient experience for people with hearing impairment, such as visual display screens in waiting rooms and induction loop or infrared systems. Having patient leaflets signposting to voluntary organisations for further support around deafness and hearing loss in the waiting areas.

Patient Records

Ensuring patient records clearly indicate when a person has a hearing impairment. You could include basic information about their preferred method of communication and any communication support requirements.

Remote Consulting

Instead of using the telephone, where possible use video conferencing tools and add live captioning through video conferencing software. Utilise Relay UK for people with hearing loss, utilise Video Relay Services, such as Interpreter Now, for British Sign Language users. BSL Health Access provides immediate, on-demand access to BSL interpreters for communication with Deaf people free of charge. Access to BSL interpreters take place through two methods: Video Relay Services (VRS)—when a BSL interpreter relays information over a telephone call between a BSL user and the hearing person receiving or making the call; and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)—where a remote interpreter is used to facilitate communication with a Deaf and hearing person in the same location.

Mental Health

Hearing impairment can have a major impact on daily functioning and quality of life. It can affect communication, social interaction and work. This can lead to loneliness, emotional distress and depression. Screening questions can be used to identify patients in need of support, so they can then be treated and signposted to voluntary support organisations.

Why get involved?

Many GP surgeries around the country are already doing great work to help patients with a hearing impairment and we want to celebrate their achievements as well support other practices to follow in their footsteps.

Research has shown when contacting and visiting their GP surgery there was a huge disparity between how patients currently contact their surgery to book appointments and how they would prefer to. 46% respondents currently visit their GP in person to make an appointment but only 9% identified this as their preferred method of contact.

During GP consultations, 44% of respondents said that their GP surgery had a visual display screen one in seven respondents (14%) had missed an appointment because they had missed being called in the waiting room. After attending their appointment, a quarter of patients were not clear about their diagnosis and unclear about health advice they were provided with.3 

Further research revealed people wait on average 10 years before seeking help for their hearing loss and when they do GPs fail to refer 30-45% to NHS audiology services.

We want to help make a positive change and improve the patients experience of visiting their GP.

Practices can embrace the changes and comply with the Accessibility Standard and Equality Act. Benefits will include smoother consultations with hearing-impaired patients, better patient health engagement and improved staff morale and deaf awareness.

Be part of a growing movement of healthcare professionals and practices who are promoting these adjustments rather than making them on a responsive basis.

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