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Deaf patients accessing services are at risk of clinical negligence

11 Dec 2013

By Catherine Reilly.

Deaf patients accessing medical services have been “taken off for wrong operations” and had sensitive medical information relayed through their hearing children, a sign-language interpreting service advocate has warned.


Elfrieda Carroll, manager of the Sign Language Interpreting Service (SLIS), an NGO supported by the Citizens Information Board that promotes availability of quality sign-language interpretation services, told IMT that a particularly alarming case involved a Dublin-based deaf man known to her, “who had been prepped for triple bypass surgery when he had really just broken a finger”.

Carroll, who presented at the ICGP Winter Meeting in Athlone on November 23, said she was not personally aware of incorrect procedures having gone ahead, but believed incidences of deaf people placed at risk of undergoing wrong procedures were “fairly common”. She was also aware of “children of nine and 10 having to tell their parents they had a miscarriage” and maternity cases “where deaf mothers may not know what is happening as labour progresses”.

GPs tended to use a pen-and-paper approach in consultations with deaf patients, she added, and this was problematic as Irish Sign Language (ISL) “is a language in itself with our own grammatical structures, syntax and cultural references”. Some 3,500 here are ISL users and a substantial number may not have adequate literacy in written English. Medical professionals needed to be aware of the potential litigious fallout from failing to engage a sign-language interpreter, as well as legislative requirements on reasonable accommodation and equal access to services, she said.

According to the HSE, which is working with stakeholders on developing guidelines for staff who work with patients and services users who are deaf or hard of hearing, health services “must find the resources required” to employ interpreters “as it is considered an integral part of the service”.

11 December 2013

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times