Call for sign language to be taught in Hartlepool schools as health chiefs admit people with hearing difficulties need more support
Calls have come for sign language to be taught in all Hartlepool schools to support people with hearing difficulties.
There are more than 17,000 people who are hard of hearing in the town, with between 50 and 100 people who are profoundly deaf, and health chiefs have admitted more people needs to be done to support them.
Councillors from Hartlepool Borough Council called for sign language to be introduced into schools to help address the issue at a meeting of the Health and Wellbeing Board.
Coun Carl Richardson said: “I think the likes of British Sign Language should be taught in schools along with French and German.
“You will always meet in life someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, and it will probably be on the increase in the next 10 years or so.
“It’s important to recognise it as a language and I would hope one day it will be taught in schools.”
The discussion came after a consultation on deaf patient experience conducted by Healthwatch Hartlepool and Hartlepool Deaf Centre.
Rachel Austin, coordinator at the deaf centre, looked at what has been done in the town since an initial Deaf Patient Experience report in 2017, and admitted there is still more to be done.
She said: “I’ve carried out a qualitative review, and we’re doing okay, I feel like I’m having quite progressive meetings with local hospitals and I hear very, very willing and committed people.
“There’s a little bit of a crisis really in deaf people accessing primary care and I believe the issue stems from insufficient interpreter contracts that are hindering both deaf patients and GP practices.
“This is British Sign Language, in the future I hope that it gets ratified and it gets equal weight to spoken English and then there would be a lot more support for services to be more inclusive.”
Coun Richardson said any interpreters must be fully qualified.
Council leader Coun Shane Moore also raised concerns about the number of interpreters, noting difficulties the council faces in finding one for public meetings.
He said: “In the run-up to this meeting, we tried to ensure there is an interpreter here should any resident require it. It proved extremely difficult to find somebody, it was near impossible.
“My concern is, even with the best will in the world, if the council, GP and health trusts were able to pull together and get everything perfect, is there enough interpreters out there?”
Dr Nick Timlin also echoed difficulties that can be seen getting interpreters in terms of at GP practices.
He said: “It just struck me there is no coordination, we need to have a joint up operation, certainly we have trouble getting interpreters for different languages, never mind deaf people.”
Coun Stephen Thomas, who represents Healthwatch Hartlepool, estimated there are around 17,000 hard of hearing people in the town, with between 50 and 100 people who are profoundly deaf.