Belfast Telegraph

Health Trust apologises for failing to supply a sign language expert to assist dying man

By Adrian Rutherford

A health trust has apologised after a daughter had to tell her deaf father that he was dying because no sign language expert was available.

The family of Thomas Carson had to use a picture board to communicate with him in his final days.

His daughter Jillian Shanks said it was humiliating and inappropriate.

The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has apologised and paid £7,000, without admission of liability, to the family.

Mr Carson, who was 79 and from Belfast, passed away at the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald in November 2016. He had been admitted three weeks earlier.

Jillian explained: "My father was taken ill quite suddenly and, because the hospital did not provide a sign language interpreter, I had to communicate the news to him that his condition was terminal and he was going to die.

"That was very distressing - for him, for myself and for my mother, who is also deaf and was with him throughout."

Mr Carson and his wife Mary have always used British Sign Language as their first language.

The Equality Commission supported Jillian and her mother to bring a case under the Disability Discrimination Act over the Trust's failure to provide interpretation services.

In settling the case, the South Eastern Trust apologised for the upset and distress the family experienced and for the fact that, by not providing an interpreter to Mr Carson, it had not acted in accordance with its 'Policy on Access on Interpreting and Written Translation Services'.

Jillian added: "The lack of a qualified sign language interpreter to communicate with my father and mother during his last days added greatly to the ordeal for all of us.

"As a family it was inevitably a most difficult time, but the lack of this key support made it worse.

"At one stage a picture board was used to try and communicate with my father - that was humiliating and simply not appropriate in the circumstances."

Her mother, Mr Carson's wife Mary, added: "The hospital knew that both my husband and I were deaf and they should have followed their own policy and ensured that we had an interpreter at such a critical time.

"We just hope that this will mean that no other family have to face such a problem."

The South Eastern Trust has now taken steps to highlight the importance of providing independent interpreters for patients who need them.

Anne McKernan, director of legal services at the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said: "The Trust's failure to implement the policies they already had in place meant that an additional degree of unnecessary distress and hurt was caused to this family.

"It could and should have been avoided."

A Trust spokesperson said: "The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust welcomed the opportunity to meet with and apologise directly to the Carson Family in December 2017 for the upset and distress they experienced through not having an available interpreter.

"The Trust is grateful that the Carson family accepted the apology and that this case was brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

"Following the settlement, the Trust met with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and discussed ongoing training and an awareness raising strategy for staff with regard to accessing interpreters.

"Initiatives include Ward Managers receiving specific training on accessing independent sign language interpreters for patients and allocated places on the 'Working Well with Interpreters' training sessions which are being held throughout the Trust."

Belfast Telegraph

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