Jen Dodds: No, Holby City, children should not be used as interpreters for their deaf parents

Posted on November 13, 2013

As everyone knows, last night’s Holby City (BBC1 – catch it here on BBC iPlayer) featured a deaf man and his daughter, played by See Hear’s Memnos Costi and HIS daughter, Kachina, who both acted brilliantly, especially as it was their first time.

However, it seems that the programme was a bit like Marmite – people either loved it or hated it – with the two main opinions being:



To be honest, when the deaf man’s arrival was announced:

“Got a cardio/GS crossover coming in. 38 year old male, had a piggy-back heart transplanted three years ago. Collapsed with severe enteritis, most likely the anti-rejection meds.”

I knew this was not going to be good.

That kind of stuff is hard enough for a properly trained and qualified BSL/English interpreter to interpret, never mind the deaf man’s nine year old daughter.

Where do I start. Where were the hospital staff’s ethics? Their understanding of boundaries? Their professionalism?

Where was their respect for BSL as a proper language, or their understanding that their complicated medical language could not simply be translated by a kid, but should be interpreted by a proper interpreter?

Where was their common sense?!

Sadly, nobody mentioned a qualified interpreter – not even the consultant who had operated on the deaf man before.

He was her patient, but she used a few simple gestures to communicate with him, leaving the more complicated stuff to the man’s daughter to ‘interpret’.

“She’s on the ball, this one,” she even said at one point. She’s nine years old!

In fact, the poor kid seemed to be completely responsible for her father, even packing his hospital bag for him and managing his medication.

Couldn’t he take his own pills? If he needed help, couldn’t he have asked another adult?

At one point, the consultant typed on her mobile phone to clarify something for the deaf man after he got confused about the risks, then she had a go at the daughter for giving him the wrong information!

“You need to understand you can never do that again. He trusts you. We trusted you!” she shouted at the poor girl.

No. No, no, no.

I think it’s the hospital that needs to understand that THEY can never do that again.

They must never put a vulnerable child into a situation where she’s forced to interpret for her father, especially not a father who he needs HEART SURGERY.

They must pick up a phone and call a NHS-approved interpreting agency to book an appropriately qualified adult to come and do the job.

Why wasn’t a social worker or someone brought in to look after the poor kid while all this was happening? Why was she treated like some kind of modern day chimney sweep, then given the blame for overdosing her Dad?!

And yes, I know it was fiction, but deaf people everywhere constantly have to explain and justify our need for qualified BSL/English interpreters, especially in medical situations.

BSL is a proper language, and you can’t just bring any old signer in to wave their hands about, especially not a family member, untrained and underage.

Frankly, I’m surprised that the deaf man didn’t die in the end.

Well, thanks, Holby City, for including a deaf character. It’s just a shame that quite a few of your 5.3 million viewers will now think that deaf people should be looked after by our kids.

As for qualified BSL/English interpreters? Let’s not bother with those. Let’s just go back 20 years and start all over again.

If you have any comments about the programme, you can send them to the Holby City producers by going through this link. You can complain to the BBC here.

Jen Dodds is a Contributing Editor for The Limping Chicken. When she’s not looking after chickens or children, Jen can be found translating, proofreading and editing stuff over at Team HaDo Ltd (

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