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Southport Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 03 April 2006

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Communication made easier for Deaf people at their GP surgery

GP SURGERIES in Southport and Formby are set to benefit from a groundbreaking computer program, which will transform communication between health professionals and patients who are either deaf or have limited English.  SignHealth, developed by national charity Sign, is the first program of its kind available to GP surgeries and is recommended by the Department of Health (DH) and the National Institute for Mental Health in England.

Sign recognises that health professionals have a number of difficulties communicating with patients who have a hearing impairment (particularly those who use sign language), or have difficulty understanding English. There are often misunderstandings, sometimes even misdiagnoses. Recent research carried out by the DH demonstrates a disturbing picture where deaf and hard of hearing people face difficult and often distressing obstacles in order to access the NHS. Consequently, the programme has been developed to give doctors and patients a simple way to communicate easily and quickly.

Southport and Formby Primary Care Trust (PCT), which includes 19 GP practices, is one of 303 PCTs in England that will be offered the program paid for by the Dept of Health, to trial for free for a limited period. SignHealth allows a GP, nurse or receptionist to choose what they want to ask a patient from a list of questions on the computer screen. The computer then shows a video clip of someone signing the question and the deaf patient can answer by selecting from a list of on-screen answers.

For people who neither speak nor read English, SignHealth offers healthcare professionals and patients an option to choose from 12 foreign languages. A question asked by the doctor is translated into the chosen language and appears on the screen while being played over a loud speaker.

Steve Powell, chief executive of Sign, commented:- “Currently more than 60 per cent of GP appointments do not provide communication support to people with hearing difficulties or to those who have limited English. SignHealth has been developed to ensure healthcare professionals can communicate effectively with patients to make sure an accurate diagnosis is made. With the support of the money given to PCTs specifically for Deaf people, I believe SignHealth will provide a service that doctors and deaf patients in Southport and Formby will benefit from for a lifetime.”

The program also prints out information sheets for the patient about their medical condition, or simple advice on how to take their medication. SignHealth also enables GPs and receptionists to send appointment reminders to deaf people via SMS, helping to avoid the difficulty deaf people experience when contacting a surgery to book an appointment. There is an estimated cost efficiency saving of up to £20m per year by reducing missed appointments by deaf people.

A demo version of SignHealth can be viewed by logging onto:; user: media; password: media.


NEARLY 1 million older people in the North of England consider and rely on the television as their main form of company. The television has now become a substitute for the companionship and support normally derived from family, friends and neighbours.  This is just one of the disturbing findings of a new survey commissioned by Help the Aged and released today which reveals the true extent of loneliness and isolation among older people in the UK in 2006.

The survey findings mark the launch of the 2nd year of the Help the Aged Helping Unite Generations (Hug) campaign which runs throughout April and aims to raise awareness and vital funds to help end loneliness and isolation among older people.

The survey also reveals that 13% of older people in the North of England (over 300,000) do not see family more than once a month (other than those they live with) and over 70,000 older people in the north never see friends.

Paul Cann, Director of Policy at Help the Aged, said:- “These depressing findings raise some tough questions. Are we going to stand by as lonely and isolated older people are left with the television as their main form of company?  Or are we going to ensure that they have the means and practical help to continue to live full lives and enjoy the company of family and friends?  Through our Hug campaign we hope to raise funds to help to deliver the practical solutions needed. But we also aim to unite generations and challenge all our families, friends and neighbours to think about how we can all embrace the needs of lonely older people and bring human warmth back into their lives.”

Lack of contact with grandchildren is a particular issue for older people in the North of England:-

* A quarter would like their grandchildren to visit more but nearly a 3rd worry that they would be pestering them if they asked

* Distance is a key factor driving the generations apart, as 30% said that their grandchildren are too far away to make it easy to visit

The research findings also reveal that older people are being deprived of other opportunities for social contact outside the network of family and friends. Over 300,000 older northerners feel trapped in their own home and over 100,000 never leave their homes, even to go to local shops or the post office. Nearly 1/2 a million older people in the north would like to go out more often but a staggeringly high proportion cite poor health (71%) and not having someone to help them get out and about (6%) as some of the reasons why they are unable to do so.

Paul Cann added:- “You can make a difference to the lives of lonely older people by getting involved with Hug Month this April. You can host your own Hug Quiz which aims to be the biggest intergenerational quiz in history. You can also buy purple Hug badges and new wrist bands from Help the Aged shops and various other outlets including Alliance and Leicester, Britannia Building Society and the Hug website. To get a free quiz pack with everything you’ll need from questions to balloons or for more information on how to get involved please call 0870 770 3288 or visit” 

Help the Aged is campaigning to improve services for isolated older people. All the money raised from the Hug campaign will continue to provide Help the Aged support services that allow older people to continue to live independently and help them feel less alone. This includes SeniorLink which is the charity’s 24 hour telephone service for use in emergencies and for a chat when needed, and the community transport scheme, SeniorMobility, which helps get older people to community centres to meet friends and engage in activities. In addition, SeniorLine is the charity’s telephone help and advice service on benefit entitlements. The service enables access to vital funds that mean older people can participate more.

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