Family of Deaf man had to tell him he was dying as hospital did not provide interpreter

Jillian Shanks (photo courtesy of BBC)

The South-Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has apologised to the family of Thomas Carson who had to tell him he was dying because the hospital did not provide a Sign Language interpreter.

Mr Carson, who was being treated in the Ulster Hospital, received the news at the end of 2016 from his daughter, Jillian Shanks.

The family brought a case against the Trust, with the support of the Equality Commission, under the Disability Discrimination Act over the Trust’s failure to provide an interpreter.

The commission said the trust had apologised for the distress caused to the family and for the fact that it had not acted in accordance with its own policies in not providing an interpreter. The South-Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has since paid £7,000 in compensation to Thomas Carson’s family.

In an interview with the BBC, Ms Shanks said the family were upset that her father could not be told his condition directly from the consultant.

“As a family, we felt it was his right, as an independent person, to be told he was dying but he didn’t have the choice.

“Maybe he didn’t want us to know that he was dying.”

She said that her father was “profoundly deaf” and that “sign language was his first language” and added she “went on auto pilot” after being asked to tell him his condition.

“It was very upsetting for me to have to tell my father he was dying and very, very upsetting for my mother, because obviously she was grieving as a wife but also then we have to explain to my father he’s dying.

“Once we did tell him, he was actually consoling my mother because she was very upset.”

Ms Shanks added that there was a “process and protocol” for securing a sign-language interpreter and the family “just don’t understand why it wasn’t utilised”.

She added: “After talking it over with my family, and other people in the deaf community, you realise it’s just not good enough for deaf people, there’s a service out there that should’ve been used.

“Anybody else who has maybe got a different language for their first language, an interpreter can be brought in – so I can’t understand why it can’t be that simple for a deaf person.”

She added: “It’s certainly not a victory by any means, what we wanted to do was to create more awareness for deaf people.

“For everyone to understand that deaf people are a community of their own, they don’t speak English as a first language and sign language is very, very important to them.”