Andy Palmer: The story of a Deaf man in hospital at Christmas showed me how the NHS continues to fail Deaf patients

Posted on January 18, 2016

The NHS continues to fail its deaf patients, I discovered this Christmas as I learned first-hand of a patient who had to undergo invasive medical procedures without knowing what was going to happen, let alone giving consent.

The real names of the people involved in this story, at their request, will be kept confidential and so will the hospital in order to safeguard the patient; but the information contained in this account is double-sourced and is a first-hand account of the shambolic treatment of a deaf man, alone in hospital on Christmas Day.

It is yet another example of the NHS’s ongoing failure to provide deaf patients with information or dignity during their treatment while also denying them the chance to express their wishes and feelings.

“A few days before Christmas they starved Mark for 24 hours,” my source told me.
“That’s standard procedure before a (lower-gastrointestinal) endoscopy but they didn’t tell him that’s what he was going to have. As far as he knew they just stopped feeding him.”

“Then when he was due to have the endoscopy, it was delayed by a few hours so his hunger went on and on and no one told him why he was being starved until he figured it out for himself when the time had come. He didn’t give his consent for it, that’s for sure.”

“Hasn’t he been provided with an interpreter?” I asked.

“Yes, he has for meetings about his discharge and when he was admitted, but most of the time he hasn’t got a clue what’s going on and that’s just because he uses BSL and no one else in there can.”

Mark, who is in his 50’s, was admitted to hospital following a stomach complaint and has been placed in a ward that is populated mainly by elderly dementia patients. In the five weeks he has been there, he has not held a single meaningful conversation with any other patient or member of staff.

“I don’t really know why he is in that ward,” my source continued.

“I went to see Mark on Christmas day. When we got there he wasn’t wearing a shirt. I asked him why because I know he would normally cover up. He just shrugged his shoulders. He is wheelchair bound so cannot get anything for himself and because he just can’t communicate any of his needs he has just given up trying. He told me he wanted to put a shirt on.”

“Then I asked him if we wanted me to draw back the privacy curtains around his bed. He said yes. It was 11am Christmas morning and that was the first time that day he’d seen daylight.”

“At home he has a wet room so he can shower daily.”

“‘Bad wash here, he said. Not enough’ and he mimicked being weakly dabbed with a sponge. I asked him when the last time he had a shower was. ‘Five weeks ago’ he replied.”

“Mark is personally very clean normally and now is being treated for bed sores and hasn’t had a decent wash for five weeks. The thing is, he can’t actually ask for a shower and has probably given up trying.”

On Christmas Day, the patients on the ward were being treated to a special dinner. A member of the catering team delivered what looked like a very sparse plate. Only two slices of turkey and a dash of gravy. No potatoes or vegetables.

“I asked the person why they were only giving him the meat and he said that was all he wanted and that he refused the vegetables or potatoes; but that wasn’t true at all. He just didn’t have a clue what he was being asked. They don’t have a clue how to communicate with him but at all seem to think they’re doing a really good job of it.”

“He eventually got his choice of mashed potato and carrots because I insisted. A couple of minutes later a man approached Mark and said something like ‘Mark, yes? Meal is good? Yes.’ Wrote something down and walked off, all without getting any response.”
My source then confronted a nurse about Marks treatment.

“The nurse just said he’s fine and he can understand everything and there’s nothing to worry about. She insisted he knew everything that was being said to him. I couldn’t believe it, but she just demonstrated how misguided they in there are.”

“After the last complaint Mark made about his treatment in hospital, which was about three weeks ago, the hospital said they’d make sure all the staff knew what his communication needs were. On his notes he would have ‘sign language user’ written across it; but even that hasn’t happened.”

Another complaint will be lodged but they hold little hope of seeing any improvement.
Over the Christmas period Mark has been starved without knowing why; had invasive treatments given for which he provided no consent and faced sitting alone in almost solitary confinement for weeks.

“He’s an intelligent man but in there they don’t value his intelligence at all.” They added.

“He has his rights trampled on, he can’t express himself, he doesn’t know what’s happening and he’s left behind a curtain. Even if some nurses just learned the basics of how to communicate with deaf people that would make a huge difference but it just feels like it’s too much to ask.”

Andy Palmer is the hearing father of a Deaf son, and is also a child of Deaf parents. He is Managing Director of the Cambridgeshire Deaf Association, runs Peterborough United’s deaf football teams and is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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