Daughter had to tell her deaf father he was dying as hospital couldn't get sign language interpreter

A daughter had to tell her deaf father that he had just weeks to live because the hospital couldn’t get a sign language interpreter for him.

The man, known only as Ronnie, died two weeks after discovering he had terminal cancer. While in hospital he couldn’t lip read as staff wore masks and he was left frightened and isolated.

His wife Sue, who is also deaf, shared the heartbreaking story as part of an awareness campaign with Healthwatch Sheffield and Citizens Advice Sheffield.

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Healthwatch has been campaigning for better services for deaf patients since 2018 but says the situation has become even worse during the pandemic.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals said the Trust was “very sorry”

Sue said: “I had a really sad and really bad experience with my husband Ronnie. The hospital treatment wasn’t very good for him and I asked the Deaf Advice Service if they would explain my story on my behalf because I’m still too emotional. It happened last April so I can’t talk about it but wanted to share it.”

Kate Bushen, a supervisor at the Deaf Advice Team which is part of Citizens Advice Sheffield, shared the story on Sue’s behalf.

She said: “They found out Ronnie had terminal cancer and it was really sad. He went to hospital and had to stay there for three days with no visitors, he was just laid there as the hospital couldn’t communicate with him.

“All the staff had to wear masks which meant it was difficult for him to even try and lip read. The staff can’t sign so he was very frightened, couldn’t communicate at all and couldn’t see his family. His wife was so upset and worried because she didn’t know what was happening.”

Sue, who is also deaf, shared the heartbreaking story as part of an awareness campaign with Healthwatch Sheffield and Citizens Advice Sheffield

A few days later Ronnie had an appointment with a consultant but Sue was told to wait outside.

Kate said: “There was no interpreter which meant the daughter had to interpret for her father and tell him the really bad news that sorry, we can’t treat you, there’s nothing we can do for you. Your life expectancy is between two weeks and two months.

“He said he wanted his wife and eventually she was allowed in the room but the doctor left the three of them. They were obviously upset. Why should his daughter have to tell him to his face that he was going to die, that’s not her role, that’s wrong.”

Sue refused to allow Ronnie to be re-admitted to hospital because staff couldn’t communicate and he died at home two weeks later.

Kate added: “A week later she received a letter saying they were going to arrange a phone call with Ronnie about his ill health.

“It was too late, he had passed away, but even if he hadn’t, how were they going to communicate over the phone when they were both deaf? Why was that not on their medical records? This really upset her.

“Everything is by whatsapp or video because of coronavirus. Sue has to fill in forms but can’t do any of that face to face. She is really upset, grieving and isolated. She is absolutely heartbroken.”

Dr David Hughes, medical director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals said the Trust was “very sorry”, acknowledged more needed to be done and said staff were actively looking at making improvements.

“We do have a British Sign Language interpreter service available and processes for raising if a patient has specific communication needs so we will be undertaking a review to understand what happened in this instance.

“We will look to make changes where necessary to limit the chances of a similar situation occurring in the future.

“We do use Ipads to support face to face communication with patients and relatives when they are in hospital and ward staff will use written communication if needed rather than speech.

“Masks are an issue in the current times but we are looking at options for clear masks which are of the required standard for infection control too.

“The letter for a follow up appointment was actually sent the day Ronnie passed away but our staff would not have known that otherwise the letter would not have been sent out.”