Risk of Deaf Patients Suffering from Medical Negligence Identified

A risk of deaf patients suffering from medical negligence has been identified in a soon-to-be-published report based on research conducted in Ireland.

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 part of the EU-funded project “Medisigns” and conducted at Trinity College’s Centre for Deaf Studies in Dublin.

“Critical Care Required” focuses on facilitating better communications between healthcare providers, sign language interpreters and patients, and highlights the risk of deaf patients suffering from medical negligence when communications are misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Examples of deaf patients suffering from medical negligence featured within the report 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 from Trinity College’s Centre for Deaf Studies who took part in the research also commented on the attitude of healthcare providers towards deaf people. They said that there was a lack of provision for those who are hard of hearing, and one case history revealed how hospital staff had to use a hospitalised child who understood sign language to act as an interpreter in the hospital´s accident and emergency department.

Shortage of Resources No Excuse for Deaf Patients Suffering from Medical Negligence

According to a Health Service Executive spokesperson, patients who are deaf or hard of hearing “have a right” to have a sign language interpreter present at healthcare appointments, and the healthcare provider must find the resources to ensure one is always available. This often happens when appointments are made in advance, but there is the danger of deaf patients suffering from medical negligence when they attend the accident and emergency department of a hospital or have an emergency appointment with their GP.

GPs in particular appear to consider engaging a sign language interpreter as an avoidable expense at a time when their funding has been reduced due to FEMPI legislation. However, Professor Leeson cautioned that a shortage of resources is no excuse for deaf patients suffering from medical negligence. 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”.

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 medical negligence claim assessment service over the phone. We would therefore request that you complete the form at the foot of the “Contact this Web Site” page – using the text box to let us know that you cannot communicate by telephone, and supplying us with an email address or an alternative form of communication.