Publish date: 6 May 2022

New Health Navigators scheme to improve hospital access for Deaf patients


Three North East NHS trusts have teamed up with a regional charity to launch a new scheme to support British Sign Language (BSL) users when they go to hospital.

The BSL Health Navigators service will mean that patients can access support and guidance to ensure they can overcome the communication barriers that affect Deaf people when they need to attend hospitals, either as an inpatient or outpatient, removing the stress and anxiety that can occur.

The independent and confidential service is being provided by Deaflink, a Newcastle-based charity offering support to D/deaf, Deafblind, hard-of-hearing and Deafened people and their families across the North East.

Jointly funded by the charities of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and also Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, it is available to BSL users who are attending hospitals in Northumberland, North Tyneside or Newcastle.

Heidi Jobling, from Deaflink, said: “We are delighted to be offering this new service and thank the three trusts involved for their recognition of the issues that are faced by Deaf patients and BSL users when they go to hospital.

“We know from a number of studies that there is a higher-than-average prevalence of other conditions among the Deaf community, which do not derive from deafness, and most are preventable, if the known communication and accessibility barriers are overcome.”

The navigators will help patients understand letters and information, liaise with health staff regarding interpreter bookings and work with ward staff to ensure inpatients have the right communication support and information.

Support will be provided in advance of hospital appointments and stays as well as to prepare for discharge in the case of inpatients to ensure that all of the relevant information has been communicated and understood by patients.

Brenda Longstaff, from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We employ a D/deaf awareness coordinator within our trust to support staff to provide the best care they can to D/deaf patients as part of our commitment to ensuring all of our communities have the access to healthcare they need without any barriers.

“However, we recognise that we can always do more and that is why we were really keen to support this project and enable BSL users to get the support they need when they are coming to our hospitals for treatment.”

Fardeen Choudhury, from Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We want to provide the best experience and care we can to Deaf patients and we understand it can be an anxious time for anyone when they visit hospital, so we are delighted to be working in collaboration with Deaflink, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and  Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust to support BSL users when they come to our hospitals.”

Chris Rowlands, from Cumbria, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As the providers of specialised mental health services for deaf people from 18 years onwards, in the North East, we provide care to Deaf and Deafblind people whose first language is British Sign Language. Good communication and support is vital to a person’s wellbeing and in the delivery of our services. We look forward to working with Deaflink’s Health Navigators to make our services more accessible to Deaf people within our region.”

The BSL Health Navigators service launched on 1 April and eligible patients can self-refer to the service through a range of contact methods. For more details, visit

Media contact

Ben O’Connell, media and communications officer, Northumbria Healthcare

Benjamin.O’ or 07833 046680.