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South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust (SWLSTG) provides mental health services for the Deaf community in south west London as well as outreach services in Cambridge and Kent.
In order to demonstrate that our Trust values the views of Deaf staff, and in order to deliver the continuous quality of service to Deaf people with mental health issues, SWLSTG supported the establishment of the Deaf Staff Network (DSN), some 19 years ago, recognising the limited opportunities open for Deaf people to share their experiences.
There is a simple reason for this as Deaf people cannot hear, they miss the opportunity to be actively involved in discussions and receive any information. Deaf people usually share their experiences whenever they can but do not always have the space or opportunity to do so. The DSN has provided that forum, sharing knowledge, skills and development for the promotion of Deaf mental health services for Deaf professionals. It has provided a safe space and comfort during difficult times but also it encourages staff to share their clinical research, experiences, service improvement, which come through closely working with Deaf Service Users (DSUs) and young people (YP); working with service line management, Trust departments and the community.
Additional benefits have been the empowerment of Deaf staff and the progress of equality and diversity work, such as progress of the Workforce Disability Equality Standards (WDES). Also, the recruitment of clinical and non-clinical Deaf individuals has set a good example to other deaf mental health services. This excellent practice has been implemented into the hearing services by showing what Deaf professionals are capable of and it has led to the upskilling of hearing professionals, who are now proficient in working with DSUs and often have an even more positive impact on the recovery process through their fluency in British Sign Language (BSL).
Unconscious bias, as it affects Deaf people, has a been a strong topic of discussion with the DSN in recent years, leading to the provision of training by the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei). The impact of the DSN has also led to closer working across the Trust. They work closely with Nursing Development Team (NDT), the equality and diversity (E&D) agenda and on staff engagement, as well as with communications and learning and development (L&D) departments.
The ongoing recruitment of clinical and non-clinical Deaf individuals has set a good example to other deaf mental health services and the good role modelling has been implemented into the hearing services, through showing what Deaf professionals are capable of by dispelling myths. The benefits of Deaf professionals but also hearing professionals who are proficient in working with Deaf service users and fluent in BSL have positive impact on their recovery processes.
The DSN has consequently become highly valued and has set a precedent for other staff groups and service user groups.
The DSN meets every two months on Friday afternoon for two hours where discussions, decision and actions with further recommendations are being made. Their meetings also have a number of guests where staff can freely discuss any issues related to their professional development, recruitment, quality improvement and innovation etc. All meetings are in British sign language (BSL) and BSL/English interpreters are provided to non-signers to be fully inclusive in those meetings, which are funded by access to work.
The only challenge is the shift pattern that does not enable those staff working in wards to attend these meetings regularly. However, if members cannot attend on the day, they can contribute their views through recorded BSL video, email, and/or FaceTime. Between those meetings members can also meet the Deaf advisor in person to discuss various issues.
Currently, we have over 30 Deaf professionals covering a wide range of clinical expertise. Over the years, the DSN has played a significant role in the recruitment of Deaf people and BSL/English interpreters. It also established a provision of nurses and support workers. We are very proud of our 7 qualified nurses, one will be qualified this year and two nursing associates completing their foundation course later this year. One of them has been interviewed by a journalist whilst on a placement and recently has won a Nursing Times award for the Most Inspirational Student Nurse of the year!
Many projects have been facilitated thanks to DSN contribution and feedback. Deaf staff work together as a team with hearing staff to aim for achieving the best mental health provision for Deaf people in need, provision that is culturally and linguistically appropriate, with staff who are Deaf culturally immersed and where Deaf identity is being celebrated.
SWLSTG believes that their Deaf services wouldn’t thrive without the ongoing effort, passion and commitments of DSN, enabling us to not only be leading experts but also role models to other NHS providers, both in mental health or general practice.
SWLSTG stand as a beacon of good practice for mental health for the Deaf community.