sign languageThe government has promised to set up a working group to look at the way mental health services are provided for British Sign Language (BSL)-using deaf people.

This commitment came from Health Minister, Lord Howe, during a debate in the House of Lords on February 2.

The Lords debate was opened by Lord Ponsonby, who said: “The current provision of mental health services for BSL users is poor and likely to get worse.” He told the House of Lords that not having services available in all parts of the country led to a postcode lottery, and a “second rate and sometimes dangerous service.”

SignHealth had worked with Lord Ponsonby to call the debate, because specialist mental health services for deaf people have been cut back since changes were made to the way the NHS is run. Specially trained therapists who work in BSL have been made redundant, because local NHS bodies who now choose which services to provide are failing to pay for them.

Labour’s spokesperson on health in the Lords, Lord Hunt, said that therapy service offered in BSL by SignHealth had “showed very, very promising results” and had “clearly fallen foul of the CCGs [clinical commissioning groups].

“We need to find a way which will actually help CCGs to commission services locally for smaller population groups. Left to themselves, CCGs will not do it.”

The government’s commitment has been welcomed by deaf health charity SignHealth. “It’s great to see the minister showing interest, and offering to look for a solution”, said Steve Powell, chief executive of SignHealth. “But this needs to be done quickly. Deaf people are suffering unnecessarily because they don't have access to the services they need. At the same time a service which has 75% recovery rates is withering and we’re having to make specially trained staff redundant.”

Lord Howe said that since a meeting between SignHealth and another Health Minister, officials have been working on proposals to help with the commissioning of psychological therapies for deaf people.

For now, he promised that the Department of Health will remind local commissioners or CCGs how important it is that psychological therapy services are accessible to BSL users.