Bill is Deaf and communicates with British Sign language. His wife is also deaf and partially blind. They live independently in their own home with some support from the Deaf Link Worker.

In 2020, Bill was admitted to hospital suddenly after becoming ill. He was frightened and confused because he did not know what was wrong. He asked for a BSL interpreter on several occasions, but this request was denied. The reason given on all occasions was that staff believed that his understanding was sufficient when they communicated information by other means, such as writing things down for him, or giving him leaflets.

Bill was asked to consent to some serious heart surgery which he did not fully understand, but felt he had to consent to.

Due to the COVID19 pandemic, an additional stress was that he was not able to inform his wife where he was or what was happening to him. He tried to send her a text message, but the signal in the ward was poor and he could not send or receive messages. Consequently, his wife was very anxious and worried.

After he was discharged from hospital, the Deaf Link worker initially sent a written complaint to the hospital on his behalf. Bill could not do this himself as there was no way for Deaf people to submit a complaint by BSL, and his written English skills were not sufficient due to BSL being his first language.

The hospital sent their response which Bill was not happy with. The Deaf Link Worker referred Bill for an Advocate from Advocacy Focus to help him pursue his complaint further.

How did we help?

Our Advocate discussed with the Deaf Link Worker the best way to arrange her first meeting with Bill. She advised the Advocate that she could use text messages or email with Bill if she used plain English and kept the number and complexity of words to a minimum. This is because English is not his primary language. He is culturally deaf and uses British Sign Language which is often grammatically different.

Our Advocate arranged a British Sign language interpreter to support Bill through their first meeting. She also obtained a clear visor as an alternative to our usual COVID face masks so that Bill would be able to read her lips.

It was clear that despite it being several months since Bill had been in hospital, he was still very angry about his experience of being denied a BSL interpreter. Our Advocate asked Bill what outcome he would like from his complaint. He said that he did not want other deaf people to go through what he went through. He also said that it was important for him to be able to see the people responsible face to face and tell them how it felt to be denied his means of communication.

Our Advocate explained to Bill that it may be difficult to arrange a face to face meeting with the hospital due to restrictions, but she would do her best to explain how important this was to him. Bill said that he didn’t mind if he had to wait until restrictions were eased, but he did not want another written response or a virtual meeting.

With the support of the excellent BSL interpreter, our Advocate went through the initial response of the hospital point by point and wrote down everything Bill was not happy with. He emphasised how at every stage, it was the staff who decided Bill did not need an interpreter, despite Bill stating that he did need one and that it was his right to have one.

When Bill was happy with what we had written, we submitted his response to the hospital. He concluded the response with the following:

“Finally, I would like to say again that I would very much appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with someone face to face from the investigating team, with the support of an interpreter. I want to feel that someone is really listening to me and understanding how it feels to be a deaf person in hospital without an interpreter to help them communicate”

Bill’s response was submitted in December 2020. In the following months, our Advocate sent several emails asking for a face to face meeting for Bill and explaining how important it was to Bill to feel he had his voice heard. The hospital initially said that they did not feel they could add anything further by having a face to face meeting, but she continued to pursue this, as it was what Bill needed to be able to put the experience behind him and move on with his life.

At last, the hospital agreed and in June 2021 Bill attended the hospital – with our Advocate for support - for a face to face meeting.

What was the outcome?

Bill and our Advocate met half an hour before the planned meeting to discuss how Bill wanted to conduct the meeting. It was important that Bill did not go away from the meeting feeling that anything had missed.