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Media Release: Dementia payments for GPs will do nothing to improve diagnosis rates of deaf patients

Start: Oct 23, 2014 12:00 AM

A leading academic research centre has raised its concerns over incentive payments to GPs to improve dementia diagnosis rates, questioning whether the money will do anything to remove existing barriers for patients who are deaf.

The Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), part of the University College London and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, made the comments following the announcement by NHS England that it intends to roll out a scheme which will pay family doctors 55 pounds every time they diagnose a case of dementia.

Academics at the internationally renowned research centre, which specialises in the fields of sign language, psychology and neuroscience, have stated that the payments will do very little to improve the very low rates of dementia diagnosis in patients who are deaf users of British Sign Language (BSL), unless the barriers that exist around access and knowledge in primary health care are removed first.

Commenting, the Director of DCAL, Prof. Bencie Woll, said:

Deaf people, particularly within the BSL community, have had a long struggle to access dementia diagnosis and support, with serious implications for quality of life of both patients and carers. We know that for deaf people in many parts of the country, just to make a GP appointment can be immensely difficult, particularly if the patient is a BSL user. Then there are challenges like securing qualified interpreters to attend appointments with the patient and that’s all before the patient even sees the GP. When they do eventually see a GP, the doctor cannot diagnose dementia because they cannot communicate directly with their patient. Using an interpreter to translate an English language test into BSL does not solve the problem, because the cognitive tests used to make the diagnosis are not accurate for this group. So diagnoses are late or are entirely missed.

Professor Bencie Woll

Prof Woll’s comments follow a long and sustained campaign by research academics at DCAL to secure public funding to provide a permanent specialist neurological service for deaf patients, with appropriate diagnostic testing and with trained staff who understand both neurology and deafness. DCAL has been working with the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, to pilot access for deaf patients to their diagnostic Cognitive Disorders Clinic but this short-term funded project will cease in 2015.

One of the leading architects of the pilot clinic is Clinical Psychologist, Dr Joanna Atkinson, who is deaf herself. She said:

It will be impossible for doctors to diagnose dementia in their deaf patients who use sign language, as not only do they struggle to communicate with these patients, they usually do not know what normal cognitive function looks like in a person born deaf. It is essential that GPs are able to refer sign language users to a specialist clinic where experts can make an early and timely diagnosis on a par with other patients. My colleagues in DCAL see this as a major service priority and will do everything possible to persuade the Government to make specialist neurological services for deaf patients a reality.”

Dr Joanna Atkinson

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Notes to editors

1. Deafness Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre is based at University College London. DCAL is a world-renowned centre of excellence for research on BSL. The centre brings together leading Deaf and hearing researchers in the fields of sign linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience. DCAL is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). http://www.dcal.ucl.ac.uk

2. Professor Bencie Woll, is a Fellow of the British Academy and is the Director of DCAL. She is an international expert in the field of sign linguistics and her research and teaching interests embrace a wide range of topics related to sign language and neuro-cognition.

3. Dr Joanna Atkinson, is a research academic at DCAL but she is also a certified Clinical Psychologist and has additional qualifications in Clinical Neuropsychology. Her work cuts across several fields including cognitive neuroscience, neuropsychology and psycholinguistics.

4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

5. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funds research into the big social and economic questions facing us today. We also develop and train the UK’s future social scientists. Our research informs public policies and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. Most importantly, it makes a real difference to all our lives. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 the ESRC celebrates its 50th anniversary. www.esrc.ac.uk