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New report demands action to address mental health inequalities faced by deaf community

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Deaf people in Wales are experiencing significant mental health inequalities because there is a lack of accessible services, no specialist Deaf mental health service in Wales and limited training about Deaf issues for health and care workers, according to a new report.

Deaf People Wales: Hidden Inequality highlights the challenges faced by Deaf people in Wales who experience mental health problems and calls on the Welsh Government to make significant changes.

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The report, compiled by the All Wales Deaf Mental Health and Wellbeing Group, was launched at the Senedd’s Cross-Party Group for Deaf Issues and copies have already been sent to Senedd members to raise awareness of the issues it raises.

These include:

  • Limited implementation of the All Wales Accessible Information Standards meaning that Deaf people still don’t get information in ways they can understand and engage with;
  • A need for an advice and signposting service for individuals, families, and workers;
  • A knowledge gap because lots of health professionals do not know about Deaf counselling services for Deaf people that are provided by Deaf people; and,
  • Deaf people have to be admitted to Birmingham, London or Manchester specialist mental health wards for full access to communication in BSL for assessment and/or treatment.

Dr Julia Terry, Associate Professor of mental health and nursing at Swansea University, is among the authors. She said: “The mental health of Deaf people in Wales has been a neglected issue for decades.

“Deaf people are already at twice the risk of mental health problems and find it extremely difficult to get help as services rarely provide accessible information or culturally relevant services.

“If nothing changes, the mental health of Deaf people in Wales will continue to be at risk.

“A conversation needs to start with Welsh Government to develop short- and long-term solutions to improve services in Wales for Deaf people experiencing poor mental health.”

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The All Wales Deaf Mental Health and Wellbeing Group is:

Paul Redfern – Chair: All Wales Deaf Mental Health and Wellbeing Group, Ex- BDA Cymru Manager 
Jacqui Bond – former Local Authority Specialist Social Worker with Deaf people  
Cath Booth – Head of Service, Achieve Together, Care and Support services  
Anouschka Foltz – Associate Professor: Linguistics, University of Graz, Austria, researcher in health care with Deaf people  
Michelle Fowler Powe – Advocacy Coordinator: British Deaf Association  
Helen Green – Programme Manager, Equality and Human Rights, Public Health Wales  
Ceri Harris – ABUHB Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead – former Velindre EDI  
Roger Hewitt – British Society of Mental Health and Deafness  
Stephanie Hill – Business Support Services Manager, Centre for Sign, Sight and Sound (COS)  
Christopher Shank – Senior Lecturer: Linguistics, Bangor University, researcher in health care with Deaf people  
Anne Silman – North Wales Betsi Cadwaladr UHB mental health directorate – Bevan Commission Examplar  
Louise Sweeney – Chief Executive Officer, Wales Council for Deaf People  
Julia Terry – Associate Professor: Swansea University, mental health and nursing  
Sofia Vougioukalou – Researcher at Cardiff University, Dementia, Deaf carers, & patient experience  

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Health

Royal recognition for role in planning health board’s response to pandemic

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A Swansea Bay University Health Board staff member has been thanked for her work through the pandemic by attending a Royal Garden Party

Planning for and responding to emergencies is second nature to Karen Jones. As Swansea Bay’s Head of Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR) Karen is used to expecting the unexpected.

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But nothing could have prepared her for the special invitation she received in recognition of her role in the health board’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a way of thanking her for her hard work, Karen (pictured) was invited to attend one of the Royal garden parties held annually at Buckingham Palace.

It is her duty to ensure the health board is prepared for high risks and emergencies and is able to respond and recover when necessary.

Over the last two years, much of her day-to-day work has unsurprisingly been focused on the response to Covid-19.

This has involved preparing and responding to various scenarios, the initial setting up of testing centres and creating a co-ordination centre where vital information could be shared between services.

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“My job is to try to be one step ahead to try and stop us going into an emergency situation but also being prepared to deal with them if they occur,” Karen said.

“I could see flurries of information coming through about the outbreak in Wuhan in December 2019. In January I spoke to our Executive Director of Public Health, Dr Keith Reid, about it as it seemed to be increasing in activity.

“After learning more, I said I think we should invoke our pandemic response plan. I dealt with the measles outbreak in 2013 and I knew this was a rising tide emergency and going the same way so we reacted early.

“I am very proud to say that we stood up our pandemic plans early in order to be prepared.

“We developed templates based on the information about what was going on in Wuhan and asked service groups to develop responses based on a number of ‘what if’ scenarios.

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“We had to set things up very quickly.”

As part of her role, delivering on training and exercising is paramount and Karen has to organise staff exercises as a way of testing the emergency plans in place, should they be needed in future.

Just months before Covid-19 emerged, she had arranged a pandemic response exercise, in conjunction with Public Health Wales, the learning of which went on to form the basis of the real-life response in Swansea Bay.

Karen said having a Covid co-ordination centre, known as Gold Command, where senior members of staff could receive situation updates and share information had been crucial in managing the response.

At the height of the pandemic, meetings were held three times a day as guidance and information was changing rapidly.

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“It was a lifesaver because in an emergency you need a central point for all information to come in so you can manage it and distribute it,” Karen said.

“It was like a tsunami coming towards us and we were trying to make sense of all of the information, especially when we were receiving several versions of guidance about the same thing within a short space of time.

“As well as the massive response within the health board, we also had to link in with multi-agencies and their equivalents to Gold Command structures.

“It was a phenomenal response.”

Karen said she was very surprised to receive the invitation to one of the Royal garden parties but she emphasised that it was a team effort thanks to the hard work from those around her, as well as wider health board staff.

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She added: “It was a complete and utter surprise and I was extremely humbled as I really wasn’t expecting it. I was honoured.

“It was a truly memorable day and the weather was beautiful. There were so many people present, all being recognised for their contributions to society, so I really did feel humbled to be part of it.

“At the beginning of the pandemic it was hard but I was in awe as I couldn’t believe how everybody pulled together. The camaraderie and teamwork – that community tight-knit feel was something I’ll never forget.

“It’s been a team effort from an accumulation of people who had to come together from all areas, led by Dr Keith Reid.

“It is an amazing job and I absolutely love it because no one day is the same. It is so varied and you can achieve so much.”

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Siân Harrop-Griffiths, Director of Strategy, said: “Karen was instrumental in establishing Swansea Bay’s response to Covid, meaning that we were in front of most health boards in our planning.

“For example, we were the first to establish a testing centre for staff.

“She has worked tirelessly through the pandemic, utilising her skills and experience on emergency planning and business continuity to enable us to respond so well as an organisation.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for her efforts to be rewarded.”

Lead image: Karen at the Royal garden party with her husband Martin (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Neath Port Talbot

Water babies make a splash at hospital hydro pools

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Opening up the hydrotherapy pool at Neath Port Talbot Hospital has led to lifesaving skills being taught in dedicated swimming classes to help safeguard babies and toddlers from drowning, Swansea Bay University Health Board have said.

The health board say changes in the way their hydrotherapy pools are managed mean that when they are not being used for clinical sessions with patients, they can now be offered for community use out of hours.

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Water Babies, a group who deliver swimming programmes to pre-school aged children, is now using the pool at Neath Port Talbot Hospital. 

The sessions in the hydrotherapy pool are fun but have an extremely serious benefit.

In the UK, drowning is the third highest cause of accidental death among babies and children. 

In most cases, the shock of sudden submersion causes children to panic, but introducing infants to water from very early on can make a real difference. 

By the age of two, toddlers can be taught to fall in, surface, swim to the side and hold on.

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An affordable hire fee from the health board and a grant from Neath Port Talbot council has already helped the group teach lifesaving skills to over 100 babies and parents. They hope to double that amount by the end of May.

“We’re delighted to be able to hold our classes at Neath Port Talbot Hospital’s hydrotherapy pool – it’s an excellent facility,” said Aletia Griffiths, director of Water Babies, who also hold classes at Singleton Hospital’s hydrotherapy pool. 

“In the last few years, at least 10 tiny Water Babies pupils in the UK have saved their own lives, five of whom were just two years old at the time.

“It’s fantastic what vital skills children can learn, and it’s so important that they do so as soon as possible.

“As well as water safety skills and enjoying the water, another key focus is to help strengthen the bond between carer and child.” 

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Water Babies runs a pre-school swimming programs at Neath Port Talbot Hospital’s pool (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

 Water Babies are among the groups who have hired the facility following changes made to the way hydrotherapy pools are run within the health board. 

The health board’s engagement programme Changing for the Future proposed a series of changes to the way urgent and planned care services are delivered following Covid. 

Following public consultation, Neath Port Talbot hospital will become a centre of excellence for rehabilitation. 

The hydrotherapy pool at the hospital, along with another at Singleton Hospital, are now the focus for hydrotherapy resources and sessions for Swansea Bay patients. The older pool at Morriston Hospital has since closed. 

The pools at Neath Port Talbot and Singleton have already seen an increase in numbers benefiting from them, with a wide range of people from babies to elderly patients using the pools to manage debilitating short and long-term conditions. 

Daniel Clarke, Musculoskeletal physio assistant; physiotherapists Holly Speare and Kristen Bucknall along with Jordanna Roberts, physio clinical lead (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

The health board hopes to encourage more community groups and voluntary sector organisations to hire the pool in Neath Port Talbot outside of NHS operational hours to aid their health and wellbeing. 

Jordanna Roberts, physio clinical lead across Neath Port Talbot and Singleton hospitals, highlighted further advantages from the group’s use of the pool, along with general benefits.

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She said: “There is a social element which has been missing for many during Covid, so the lessons are a chance for mums to network and build up supportive parenting relationships. 

“Physically any exercise and movement has a multitude of health benefits, including improving mood, sleep, physical strength and mobility, alongside preventing against chronic health conditions. 

“The warm and buoyant water within the pool reduces joint load and can make stretching and movement more effective and comfortable. 

“Following the success of the Water Babies class, we are keen to work with other partners to increase overall population access. 

“We’d be keen to hear from any groups interested in hiring out the pool pools at both Neath Port Talbot and Singleton.” 

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To hire the hydrotherapy pools at Neath Port Talbot Hospital and Singleton Hospital, contact 01792 285383 or email Jordanna.Roberts@wales.nhs.uk

(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Charity

Swansea student in triathlon challenge for Heart Research

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A student at University of Wales Trinity St David is taking on UWTSD Swansea Triathlon on 28-29th May to raise vital funds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and put a positive spin on what’s been a tough time for her family.

Sophie Taylor, originally from Cardiff, who is studying a BA in Product and Furniture Design at the university’s Swansea campus, decided to raise money for the BHF because her sister Hollie’s partner has a heart condition and is grateful for the medical research and treatment which has enabled him to live a happy life.

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Alex Martin, who now lives in Abergavenny and is originally from Hereford, found out he had congenital heart disease just before his 24th birthday during a medical examination when he was in the process of joining the army.

Alex was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, and the discovery meant he couldn’t sign up. But thanks to progress in science, surgeons were able to replace his heart valve, giving Alex a future with his partner, Hollie.

Alex says, “From a very young age I’ve always wanted to join the army, however, this was turned on its head at the age of 23. After undergoing an army medical check, it was discovered that I had heart valve disease and I had to have open heart surgery to replace the valve. Through the diagnosis and surgery my girlfriend Hollie has been my rock. We’ve been together since we were eighteen and our relationship has never been stronger.

“When Sophie approached me about doing a triathlon last year, I was super excited for her. Like everything, it was postponed, and here we are less than 2 weeks away from Sophie attempting her first multi-sport event. It was made even more special when she told me, that she wanted to do it for me! When I say, ‘me’, I mean on behalf of me for the BHF. I thought, ‘what a lovely idea,’ and was more than happy to help in any way possible. Be it training advice or letting her use my kit for the big day. I could not be prouder of her and cannot wait to see all the hard work pay off on race day.

“Without people like Sophie doing events like this and raising money for the BHF who knows where I would be. So, thank you Sophie – Now let’s go and smash race day!”

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Sophie and Alex

Sophie says she’s taking on the challenge to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one, “Life so far for my family hasn’t been easy and my mental health has suffered. When we found out about Alex’s condition it was a big strain on my sister and I saw how much it affected her. Myself and Hollie are very close and have always been rather active, but this is one of the biggest things I have ever done in my life. I can’t say it’s been easy juggling my second year at university and training as I have had to balance my time well; but it’s the smile on my sister’s and Alex’s face that will make this all worth it as this is just the beginning of what I want to do for the British Heart Foundation.

“I think Alex is the main reason I am doing this as he’s always been inspiring for me when it comes to sport as he’s always encouraged me to explore in different activities, and since his operation he has been limited to the activities he can do. So this is me doing it for him and showing myself also what I am capable of.

“I just want to give something to those who are battling every day, because if we all did the same the world would be a different place.”

She adds, “Since it was established the BHF has helped halve the number of people dying from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK each year, but sadly every day hundreds of people still lose their lives to these conditions. It’s only thanks to support from people like us that BHF-funded researchers can help create new treatments. £24 could pay for two hours of research by an early career scientist, but every pound helps so I wanted to take on this challenge to do as much as I can for people living with heart conditions.”

Alex’s partner, Sophie’s sister Hollie says, “I could not be prouder of my sister for getting out there and doing something she has never done before. More than anything I would like her to be proud of herself and realise how far she has come. Like many students, Soph has been struggling with her mental health since starting her degree during the height of covid. It really took its toll on her. However, she has used this triathlon as a challenge to help her overcome her struggles.

“When Sophie mentioned she would like to do the Triathlon for the British Heart Foundation, Alex and I were choked by the gesture, as the charity has been of huge support to us and our families over the last few years.

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“In November 2019, Alex was sat in an army medical room unaware that he was waiting to be told that his life was not going to turn out how he planned it to be. The medical uncovered the signs of a congenital heart condition known as a bicuspid aortic valve which caused the dilation of his ascending aorta. Through many consultations and appointments, it was clear that Alex required urgent treatment.

“In October 2020, with a number of setbacks due to the coronavirus global pandemic, Alex finally underwent open heart surgery at the age of 24. Since, his surgery, Alex has made a speedy recovery, and although the dream of an army career has been halted, he is able to live his life as close to normal as possible and looks to join Sophie in her next Triathlon Event, whenever that maybe.

“Both our families have recognised that without the support, research and aid offered from the British Heart Foundation and the cardiac specialist, the outcome of Alex’s story would be very different.”

Jayne Lewis BHF Fundraising Manager said: “We are so grateful to Sophie for supporting the BHF’s research. For more than 60 years the public’s generosity has funded BHF research that has turned ideas that once seemed like ‘science fiction’ into treatments that save lives every day. But millions of people are still waiting for the next breakthrough.

“Today in Wales around 340,000 people are living with the daily burden of heart and circulatory diseases. We urgently need the public’s support to keep our lifesaving research going, and to discover the treatments and cures of the future. It is only with donations from the public that the BHF can keep its lifesaving research going, helping us turn science fiction into reality.”

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To support Sophie, go to: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sophie-taylor91

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