Deaf patients face delays over poor communication by health officials

University Hospital of Hartlepool
University Hospital of Hartlepool

An urgent medical examination for a deaf patient was delayed after hospital staff failed to book a sign language interpreter.

That was one of the experiences reported during an investigation by the patient group Healthwatch Hartlepool and Hartlepool Deaf Centre into local GP and hospital services in response to concerns raised by deaf patients.

Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas

They presented a number of recommendations to Hartlepool Health and Wellbeing Board including better communication and staff training.

The investigation included visits by Healthwatch Hartlepool and Hartlepool Deaf Centre to North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals.

Surveys were completed by eight town GP practices and also by deaf patients.

Half of patients had missed GP appointments because they had no visual display screen to alert them it was their turn.

Hospitals were not always made aware patients are deaf, and patients are not routinely told if an interpreter has been booked when they receive appointment letters adding to their stress and anxiety.

Others said they would like to be able to book GP appointments by text.

None of the practices that responded routinely provide deaf awareness training.

At hospital, a female patient’s urgent endoscopy examination procedure was delayed because staff did not book an interpreter.

Another patient was not provided with an interpreter while in hospital for four days. The patient said: “It felt like I was in prison.”

Wendy Harrison, of Hartlepool Deaf Centre, said: “It’s not nice going into hospital, but not to be able to understand what people are saying makes it even worse.”

Recommendations include resource boxes with basic deaf awareness information provided on all wards, better information flows between GP and acute services, and creating a special deaf icon on digital patient record systems.

Stephen Thomas, of Healthwatch Hartlepool, said: “We will do everything in our power to ensure these recommendations are taken forward.”