Cultural competence in NHS hearing aid clinics: a mixed-methods case study of services for Deaf British sign language users in the UK

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This study identified and explored how National Health Service (NHS) hearing aid clinics address cultural competence concerning Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users. This was approached by (i) investigating how organisational processes meet the needs of Deaf signers from a hospital and hearing aid clinic perspective, (ii) analysing policies and guidelines to investigate if they equip practitioners to meet the needs of Deaf signers and (iii) exploring with practitioners who work in hearing aid clinics about their experiences of working with Deaf signers.
This study utilised a mixed-methods multiple case study design, incorporating documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews. Interview analysis was conducted using Reflexive Thematic Analysis (RTA). The research encompassed two hearing aid clinics in separate hospitals, producing 19 documents and eight interviews (four at each site) with audiologists ensuring a representative mix of professional experience levels.
Four themes emerged from the integrated analysis: (1) Understanding Deaf signers; (2) Communicating with Deaf signers; (3) Barriers and Facilitators and (4) Service improvement. A noticeable gap in understanding BSL as both a language and a cultural system was apparent across various policies, strategies, training programmes and staff expertise. Over-reliance on interpreters provided a false sense of accessibility and most participants felt tentative to engage directly with Deaf signers. Positive practices observed at Sites A and B encompassed accurate identification of patients as Deaf signers, improved interpreter availability, communication methods, enhanced training and the encouragement of professional self-awareness.
This is the first study that explores cultural competence of hearing aid clinics and its staff concerning Deaf signers in the UK. The results show both clinics require development to become an effective provider for culturally Deaf signers. Examples of how to design culturally competent practices have been provided to assist hearing aid clinics. The findings may be applicable to other underrepresented groups who are not typical users of conventional, acoustic hearing aids provided by the NHS.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1440
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1440
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2023


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