The estimated 175,000 deaf and hard of hearing people living in the Black Country will soon be able to access a better standard of care from the NHS, thanks to an innovative new sign language project set to be delivered over the coming months.

Young frontline staff working in hospitals, GP surgeries and healthcare centres in Wolverhampton and Walsall are eligible for a new 10-week taster course in British Sign Language that will equip them with the communication skills they need to better understand and more effectively meet the needs of deaf and hard of hearing patients.

Developed as part of a wider series of moves across the Black Country to enhance the quality of care accorded to minority group patients, the sign language project will also help to address alarming findings from research commissioned by the RNID (Royal National Institute for the Deaf), which highlighted missed appointments, unclear medical diagnoses and confusion surrounding medication, as problems directly resulting from communication difficulties between NHS staff and hearing impaired patients.

The language learning project is part of the Black Country Pathfinder 14-19 Networks for Excellence, a groundbreaking initiative strategically led by Black Country Learning and Skills Council (LSC) that aims to raise the profile of minority languages in order to meet the needs of young people, employers and local communities. Henriette Harnisch, Pathfinder Director, comments: "This pioneering new project will benefit patients and staff alike. With the RNID's research showing that over 40% of hospital patients and 35% of GP patients have experienced communication difficulties, the sign language course will help to break down some of the barriers facing hearing impaired individuals as well as ensuring that instances of missed appointments and confusion over prescriptions will be reduced here in the Black Country.

Furthering, she said, "In addition, the project will help to raise awareness amongst NHS staff of the needs of deaf patients and we are also hopeful that by re-introducing employees to learning in a way that is relevant to their job role and life experience, they will be encouraged and inspired to progress onto further learning opportunities."

Julie Cosgrove, Director of Young People's Learning at Black Country LSC, adds: "This is a fantastic example of how learning new skills can not only benefit the individual but also prove beneficial and worthwhile in the workplace. The languages pathfinder is a really exciting initiative and we are delighted that a project such as this, that is helping to tackle national issues, is being pioneered here in the Black Country."

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The Black Country Pathfinder is one of 39 Pathfinder projects across the country designed to pilot practical ways of increasing curriculum opportunities for 14 to 19 year olds and encouraging more young people to stay on in learning. The sign language project is being partially funded by Aim Higher, which aims to encourage more people to progress into Higher Education.

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