Every day, North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (NEAS) responds to thousands of patients across the region, of which many face communication barriers, such as a hearing impairment, information in easy read or little understanding of the English language.
In order to make access to services as open as possible, and to support frontline clinicians is negotiating such barriers, NEAS has developed an interactive online tool, which contains easy to understand pictures for common ailments to allow patients to show the clinician what is wrong and, in turn, allow the clinician to show patient what they are doing and why, and what will happen next.
The guide also provides direct access to interpreters and contains guidance for communicating with patients with specific needs, such as visually impaired and deaf blind patients, as well as basic information about customs relating to entering homes, treatment and death for some faith groups.
NEAS is believed to be the first ambulance services in the country to produce such a guide.
Yvonne Ormston, NEAS chief executive, said: “We aim to provide safe, effective and responsive care for all patients throughout the North East, regardless of their communication needs. Unfortunately, communication barriers can sometimes lead to an unintentional delay in treatment and miscommunication.
“This new resource will help ensure we are able to effectively communicate with all patients, involve them in decisions about their care and treatment, and keep them informed throughout.
“We have a strong record of innovation and this new guide is a perfect example of how we are using technology to improve services for our patients.”
The guide comes hot on the heels of a new learning disability zone, which has been created on our external website to support patients in making a decision about what service they require. It was developed with support from third sector organisations and paramedics and has been welcomed by community groups across the region.
Ramin Samadpour, who speaks three languages, interpreted on scene when a member of the public in his local community took ill.
“This guide will mean the service will be better for people whose first language is not English,” he said. “It will ensure people can more easily access the help and support they need and the pictures will help many different groups of people to understand and aid them through the process.
“It is useful on a call or at the scene to use an interpreter rather than try to stumble through a conversation with broken English as people might not know some of the medical terms paramedics might use and this can cause confusion.”
Paul Murray, who has a learning disability, had reason to dial 999 when he broke his arm.
He says the attending ambulance crew were able to change their communication style to meet his needs and provide reassurance but the introduction of the guide using pictures will make it easier for people with learning difficulties when using the service.
“It will help people and give them the chance to talk and explain their issues better and explore where it hurts to enable the paramedic to help the person,” he said.
“Knowing about the guide will help me if I have to use the ambulance in the future.”
Although Anthony Wright, who also has a learning disability, says he mostly felt included when needing an ambulance recently, the paramedics mostly spoke to his mother due to communication issues.
He said: “Using the guide would have helped the paramedics to have a fuller conversation with me and would have allowed me to give more information to the paramedics using the pictures to help me. It would have meant that I could have been fully involved in all conversations and decisions about my care. Knowing it’s there gives me confidence when calling the service in future.”
Deaf and British Sign Language (BSL) user Joanne Fortune accessed the NHS111 service using the BSL text relay service used by NEAS.
She said: “Every deaf person has different communication needs and skills – some can understand written English, some can’t and some can use lip reading skills if they have them and, for some, these skills may be enough to communicate with a paramedic. In situations where deaf people don’t have these skills, these skills are limited or there is confusion, the pictorial communication guide will aid all parties to communicate, help to identify what is wrong with the patient, provide some reassurance and tell them about what will happen next.
“It will also help people to be independent and manage their own health needs.”
For more information about the guide, visit www.neas.nhs.uk/patient-info/communications-support