Is Medway deaf to the needs of the hard of hearing community?
Can there really be 45,000 hard of hearing people in Medway?
Welcome to the latest part of our series of pieces looking at historical questions from council meetings that were never answered properly. Previous editions have examined alleyways, political assistants, and blue boards. This time, we are looking into the issues facing deaf people in Medway. We went all the way back to the beginning of online records. A time when the Medway administration was Conservative and they still allowed the public to ask supplementary questions. That mythical time was 5 December 2001.
The following piece has been put together with input from deaf and hard of hearing residents. Thank you for your help, any mistakes that follow are mine.
The original question was asked by Mrs Wood on behalf of Mr Graham Warren, president of Medway Deaf Club:
“Social services no longer has a social worker or support worker specifically working with deaf people. I am aware that the post of social worker has been advertised and there has been little, if any, response. I also understand that a weekly drop-in surgery (Wednesday mornings), with an interpreter present, has been set up at the Compass Centre. My understanding is that so far no deaf person has actually taken advantage of this. Have the deaf community been informed of this drop-in service? Is the Compass Centre accessible to all deaf people? What about the elderly deaf person or a carer who may find it extremely difficult to visit the Compass Centre? Are there any arrangements for home visits? Would the worker be aware of the needs and culture of deaf people? In the past it has been the specialist social worker/support worker for the deaf who was the link to other departments within the Council. With no such worker in post, it means that deaf people experience difficulties in accessing other departments. It is true to say that deaf awareness training has been provided to some Council departments, but shouldn’t this be provided to all departments, particularly front line staff? Ideally such training should be provided at least once a year, due to the turnover of Council staff?”
Now, in fairness there are a lot of questions there but Councillor Howard Doe, who at the time was 20 years into his 42 years and counting as a Medway councillor was Portfolio Holder for Health and Community Services, and responded as follows:
“There are two posts within health and community to work specifically with deaf and hearing impaired people, a social work and support work post. The social worker post has been vacant for over a year and advertised in specialist magazines on at least three occasions, although applications have been received and interviews undertaken it has not been possible to recruit. For these reasons negotiations have begun with the deaf services bureau run by Kent County Council social services directorate to see if agreement can be reached to purchase the service from them under a contractual arrangement. Information about the progress of these negotiations will be given to the deaf community as soon as possible. Temporary arrangements have been made to ensure that a BSL sign language interpreter is available at the Compass Centre on Wednesday mornings to provide communication support for the deaf services duty session. This service is primarily available to take referrals for the service but is currently relying on the support of the occupational therapist and if necessary care managers. Urgent referrals are currently passed onto other relevant teams and non-urgent cases are being held until new arrangements are made. All referrals related to equipment provision are receiving assessment from Hi Kent a specialist voluntary organisation with a base at Medway Maritime Hospital. The deaf community were informed by Keith French, our previous support worker, of these arrangements before he left. Deaf awareness training is promoted for all staff and available through the learning and development programme within the Council.”
As mentioned this was a golden era, and so Mr Warren asked one supplementary question:
“Our members actually live in a wide area. We are the only deaf centre though in Medway, but there are deaf people that come from all over the area, for example from Gravesend and Folkestone. They all come along to the Medway Centre here in Medway. If there are any problems that arise we would prefer it to be in that centre which is much easier for deaf people to access.”
Councillor Doe responded as follows:
“I think what we have to do here is to look at our customers’ aspirations and see if we can match the service. I do not know what is involved in that proposal but certainly we will have a look at it and we will try to get towards a service as quickly as possible which is really relevant to deaf people in Medway. I think it is a very unfortunate situation we are in at the moment and I do feel we have to resolve it soon, and I will certainly be giving the matter priority in my discussions with the director of social services.”
And as we know, if Cllr Doe is giving it a priority of discussion, then that matter was certainly discussed. Whether it was resolved however is lost to the annals of history, and so we come to now.
The NHS estimates that 1 in 6 people in the UK are affected by some form of hearing loss, which is where we get our suggestion that some 45,000 people in Medway could be among them. So let’s look at the support available to them, the concerns highlighted by the modern world, and what they wish the council would do.
We reached out to one member of the hard-of-hearing community, who answered that question bluntly:
“They could give a fuck as a starting point”