Hospitals' hearing loss help concerns patient watchdogs
Hospitals in Wales are not giving enough support to people with hearing loss, say patient watchdogs.
Community health councils (CHC) visited 68 areas around 22 hospitals and found 33 of them had "unsatisfactory" help for those with hearing loss.
Many hearing loops, which allow people with hearing aids to get announcements, were not installed, were broken or staff did not know how to use them.
The Welsh government said it was up to health boards to meet patients' needs.
Equality laws mean public bodies must address communication and access needs.
The 33 places rated as unsatisfactory included key points such as accident and emergency departments, outpatient clinics, day theatres and main reception desks.
Examples where problems were found included:
- Montgomery County Infirmary, where the watchdog noted "no loop system installed" either in reception or even in audiology.
- At Prince Charles Hospital, Merthyr Tydfil, they found the hearing loop at the minor injuries and emergency care centre reception not working and staff "unaware of operation".
- Wrexham Maelor - Entrance B and main entrance - loop system not working.
- Neath Port Talbot Hospital - main reception, no loop.
Plans to remedy the issues have been formed by all local health boards in Wales, but BBC Wales has found at least one hospital where the facility is still not available.
Tests at one area in the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport on Monday showed it did not have a working hearing loop.
One patient, Megan Rennoldson said she has had poor experiences in Monmouth, Newport and Abergavenny in relation to the hearing loop.
She said she has given up on using them now and takes a friend instead to help her whenever she visits hospital.
She feels deaf people should not have to live in a "different world" when accessing services, and she often goes to the cinema and uses their hearing loops facilities without any issues.
Cathy O'Sullivan from Aneurin Bevan Community Health Council - who took part in the survey - said they had used special devices to test for hearing loops.
She added that the Welsh government had cut its budget for carrying out the same audit again this year and deaf people should not be treated as second class citizens.
Richard Williams, director of Action on Hearing Loss Cymru, said things were not improving and too many people were not getting the service they deserve from the NHS.
He added that some deaf people were being put at risk because of a lack of clear information being provided to them.
There were similar criticisms of health boards 18 months ago - they responded by saying they were striving to improve access for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The Welsh government said it was "deeply committed" to making sure patients can access the care they need, and "significant improvements" had been made to audiology services.
A spokesperson added: "Health boards are responsible for providing services to meet the needs of their local population, including the provision of audiology services and the installation of hearing loops and we expect them to meet patient demand.
"We will also be meeting representatives from the NHS, including the third sector, to help us develop plans to further improve audiology services."
Cwm Taf health board said a new hearing loop system was in place at the emergency care centre in Prince Charles Hospital.
Aneurin Bevan health board said: "With newer buildings hearing loops are usually fitted during the construction phase but with many older buildings using older equipment to aid hearing can prove difficult.
"We are continuing to work closely with the community health council to ensure patients and visitors with hearing difficulties have access to high quality equipment and trained staff when visiting our premises."
Powys teaching health board was "aware of the issues raised by the CHC report and has plans in place to address the issues identified as part of its wider work to ensure that all of its staff and facilities are able to meet the varying communications needs of its patients".
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board said: "It is important that patients and visitors to our hospitals who have hearing impairment have their communication needs met, and we are expanding our loop system into the atrium area of Neath Port Talbot Hospital."