Accessibility expansion in the North East

In a recent step towards maximising accessibility, all North East Ambulance Service vehicles will have an iPad equipped with SignVideo. The app enables staff to access the video relay service to communicate with Deaf and BSL patients.

The app will be accessible for 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The video interpreter will allow the patients’ needs and condition to be assessed, helping to aid with the next steps of the patients’ diagnosis.

Indeed, this step forward is crucial, given that there are around 151,000 people in the UK who use BSL, and of these, 87,000 are Deaf. This on-demand service empowers BSL users to improve communication and response in emergency situations. It facilitates asking critical, lifesaving questions in urgent situations. Additionally, the service is also valuable in non-emergency contexts, such as when the community engagement teams provide training and advice.

Mark Johns, the Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager at North East Ambulance Service commented, “As an emergency service, we are committed to delivering high quality patient care and making sure all patients receive prompt and effective communication during emergency situations.

 “Although our health advisors have access to BSL relay to support patients over the phone, we knew our crews and Deaf/BSL patients sometimes face communication barriers. This partnership with SignVideo means that when a patient who is Deaf or uses BSL, we are able to triage and communicate more easily”.

 The coordinator from Hartlepool Deaf Centre said: “Deaf BSL users struggle to access the ambulance service and many other services because of the communication barriers and the lack of support and assistance that is available.

 “It’s great to see this new service being introduced by North East Ambulance Service as it will hopefully remove a barrier that people experience and provide a useful tool to support Deaf BSL users and paramedics to communicate with each other in challenging and difficult circumstances. It will help to save more lives, ensure people get the best outcome and help achieve equality between Deaf and hearing people.”

 Here at Signature, we acknowledge this is a very important and crucial step for ensuring medical equality. Deaf people or those who use BSL often have to rely on asking family and friends to interpret for them, but this is not a sustainable, nor fair option. Following from the Covid Pandemic, it is not unlikely that some healthcare professionals still choose to wear masks. Indeed, this makes communication and lipreading almost impossible, leaving Deaf people feeling a deep sense of isolation and anxiety. Alongside this, in the realm of emergency care, there is little room for communication barriers as an immediate response is vital for one’s health. Ultimately, this service ensures reliable and efficient care is provided in a quick manner.

 Staff training will be completed by Spring 2025

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