SignHealth will close BSL Health Access because the NHS has not committed any further funding from April.
The deaf health charity SignHealth launched the free on-demand remote interpreting service called BSL Health Access, in partnership with the company, InterpreterNow, to enable deaf people access to medical services over the phone, free of charge at the beginning of the pandemic.
When BSL Health Access launched, SignHealth “was optimistic” that NHS England or another government body would pay for the service in order to make phone consultations accessible to deaf people.
In the meantime, SignHealth invested £800,000 from its own reserves to launch the service.
Late in 2020, the NHS agreed to cover the running costs from December to the end of March 2021 to ensure the service continued into the winter, while the NHS reviewed British Sign Language (BSL) provision more broadly.
SignHealth has been told that that review is not yet complete, but it unable to cover the costs of the service.
As the NHS has not committed any further funding for 1 April onwards it says the service will not be able to run.
James Watson-O’Neill, SignHealth chief executive, said: “I am incredibly proud of what BSL Health Access has achieved and I will always be grateful to SignHealth’s deaf-led board of trustees for approving such a significant investment to fund this innovation.
“I hope that we can work together with NHS England and individual NHS providers to find a long-term sustainable solution. Access to health services is a right, not a privilege. Deaf people, whose health is already poorer than hearing people’s, deserve excellent access to health care in British Sign Language.”
A petition has been set up asking the NHS to fund BSL Health Access.