Two workers at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals have started an initiative to teach sign language to staff.

Steven Hartman, who is a British Sign Language tutor, and Rev David Southall, the Chaplain, are running a 10-week course in British Sign Language for hospital staff.

British Sign Language (BSL) is used by 50,000 people in the UK and our Worcestershire hospitals see frequent visits from deaf patients for whom BSL is their first language.

BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK Government in 2003 and it involves movement of the hands, body, face and head.

Many thousands of people who are not deaf also use BSL, either because they have deaf relatives or as a result of some contact with the British deaf community.

“The idea came about from a meeting I had a year ago with a deaf patient," said Rev Southall. "I realised I didn’t even know how to say 'Hello' so I started a Level 1 BSL course with Deaf Direct in Worcester.

“Then I bumped into Steven, who as well as being a BSL tutor is also a porter at Worcestershire Royal and we hatched this plan.”

Mr Hartman, who became deaf 30 years ago due to a virus, has taught BSL to staff in his previous work at Basildon Hospital.

“Coming into hospital as a deaf patient can be a frightening experience," he said. "I am passionate about teaching sign language to NHS staff and this course will enable staff to have simple conversations with deaf patients and relatives.

"We have access to BSL interpreters for patients and relatives, but they cannot be there all the time.

"I think the most important thing we can do is to let deaf patients know that we take their hearing issues seriously.

"We want to be as inclusive as possible and I want our hospitals in Worcestershire to be deaf-friendly places.”

Over 50 people applied for only 30 places on the September course.

“There will be a number of disappointed staff,” said Rev Southall, “but hopefully we can get further funding to not only run another course here but also to do the same at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch and Kidderminster Treatment Centre where we have already had a lot of interest.

"In fact, we met Michelle McKay, the chief executive, who is fully behind this project, and enabled us to get funding for this pilot course.

"I think we can make a real difference to the life of our deaf patients and relatives by learning their first language.

"And the vision is to have staff in all the areas of our hospitals who can use basic BSL to let deaf patients know they are in a Deaf Friendly and Deaf Aware Trust.”

The course will include basic greetings, as well as simple conversations about food, family and daily life.

It is not aimed to replace the interpreting service but to give patients a chance for simple conversations in the patients preferred language.