12 December 2014
Hospital left deaf patient for eight days without a translator
A hospital has apologised and compensated a deaf woman after she spent six days on a ward, without any access to a sign language interpreter despite repeated requests for one to be provided.
The incident was the third time in two years that Perth Royal Infirmary had been censured over the same issue.
After her emergency admission Sally Doering, 65, of Auchterarder, was unable to find out what was happening or what was wrong with her, and could not let staff know she was in pain, or even choose her meals.
Mrs Doering said: "My daughter took me to my GP as I could hardly walk and was breathless. He sent me to Perth Royal Infirmary as an emergency."
Even though her family requested one, no interpreter was provided, she says. "I had no idea what was happening to me. I couldn't communicate with staff, I couldn't let anyone know when I was in pain. I couldn't even make choices of what food I wanted."
She did not know but she had a life-threatening condition. "I had lung infections and was on drips for four days, after that I went home and was still on antibiotics for eight weeks. It was very serious. But I didn't find out what had been wrong with me until I got home and someone was able to explain to me."
Mrs Doering, who has been profoundly deaf since birth and also has cerebral palsy, said she had still not had a personal apology from NHS Tayside.
There have been further occasions when she has attended follow-up appointments and found no interpreter booked, she said.
"Hearing people think deaf people can read and write English, but BSL is our first language so it is difficult for us to do that," she added. "I think there are problems all over the country with deaf people not having the same access to treatment and information."
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) began legal proceedings against NHS Tayside under the 2010 Equality Act in March this year, but dropped them when NHS Tayside signed a formal agreement as a result of the incident, which happened in 2013.
Under an action plan the health board must now assess and meet the communication needs of all patients. The board also agreed to compensate Mrs Doering for the distress its actions caused her. Mrs Doering plans to donate some of the cash to charities including Deaf Links.
Alastair Pringle, Director of the EHRC in Scotland said: "We are pleased NHS Tayside has agreed to change its practice and meet its legal duties going forward.
"This agreement is important because this is not the first time that NHS Tayside has failed to put reasonable adjustments in place to ensure deaf people have access to the support they require. In 2012 Mrs Doering herself received an apology for a similar failure to provide an interpreter to her, and another deaf woman successfully complained to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman about the hospital's failure to provide a British sign language interpreter in 2013."
NHS Tayside's Nurse Director Dr Margaret McGuire said: "Mrs Doering's experience was unacceptable and fell far short of what I would expect. I would like to reiterate our apology to her and also to her family for this poor experience.
"We are implementing a detailed Improvement Plan for Interpretation and Translation Services. This includes ongoing work to ensure all our staff are aware of their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 and their responsibilities in relation to identifying and meeting the needs of all patients. We are being helped by members of the deaf community and other patient groups to review our interpretation and translation systems and processes. We are determined to learn from this."