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Danger of Deaf Patients Suffering From Medical Negligence Highlighted in Report

A soon-to-be-published report has highlighted the danger of deaf patients suffering from medical negligence due to a failure by medical professionals to communicate.

The report – “Critical Care Required: Access to Interpreted Healthcare in Ireland” – was prepared by Professor Lorraine Leeson as a consequence of the EU-funded project “Medisigns” which was conducted at Trinity College’s Centre for Deaf Studies.

The content of the report focuses on facilitating better communications between healthcare professionals, sign language interpreters and patients, and reveals the danger of deaf patients suffering from medical negligence when communications are misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Examples of some of the tragic accidents that have occurred in Irish hospitals include:

·  One deaf patient was prepared for heart surgery after he attended hospital with a finger injury
·  Concern was raised when a woman failed to sleep for three nights in a recovery ward. It was later discovered that she could not communicate that she was cold.
·  One patient, who relied on sign language to communicate, had eye drops put in their eyes and could not see the signals being made to them or otherwise communicate.
·  A deaf patient was killed after being released from hospital as he attempted to walk home from Galway to Clifden – a distance of 50 miles.

Focus groups who took part in the project also commented on the attitude of medical staff towards deaf people, and the lack of provision those who are hard of hearing – with one case revealing how medical staff called on a hospitalised child who understood sign language to act as an interpreter in the hospital emergency room.

Shortage of Resources No Excuse for Medical Negligence to Deaf Patients

According to a Health Service Executive spokesperson, hospital patients who are deaf or hard of hearing “have a right” to have a sign language interpreter present at healthcare appointments, and the health service provider must find the resources (budget) to ensure one is always available.

This is often possible when appointments are made in advance, but there is the danger of deaf patients suffering from medical negligence when they attend an Emergency Room or their doctor´s surgery.

GPs in particular appear to consider engaging a sign language interpreter as an avoidable expense at a time when they have faced a cut in funding due to FEMPI legislation. However, Professor Leeson cautioned that a shortage of resources is no excuse for medical negligence to deaf patients. She said:

“At the end of the line it is [the doctors’] responsibility to make sure that they are gaining informed consent from their patients and to ensure that their patients understand, and what we are finding is that patients are saying that they absolutely do not understand what is happening.”

She added that failing to use the services of a sign language interpreter could have serious implications for both the patient and doctor: “what [would be] the cost if they were found to be liable for not actually clearly communicating with their patients and there are consequences arising from that”.

Important Footnote:

If you or somebody close to you has suffered medical negligence due to being hard of hearing, we appreciate that you may not be able to use our free telephone advice service. We would therefore request that you complete the contact form at the foot of this page – using the text box to let us know that you cannot communicate by telephone and supplying us with an email address or alternative form of communication.