Ausnew Home Care | Deaf patients say Queensland hospitals are failing

Deaf patients say Queensland hospitals are failing to provide adequate Auslan services at critical times

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Carol Keech says the pain in her stomach was "excruciating" as she arrived at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital one night earlier this month.

She had an oesophageal perforation, six days after having an upper gastrointestinal operation.

The situation was made worse because Mrs Keech is deaf and could not properly communicate with medical staff without an Auslan interpreter.

She said it was not until the next morning, when doctors decided she needed emergency surgery, that an interpreter was arranged via video call.

"And then they got an interpreter on the iPad, I was like 'Who's this?'

"I'm laying there and she was driving in her car with her seatbelt on and she was trying to sign to me, 'You have to sign the consent form for the doctor for the agreement for the operation', and I'm like, what?

Carol Keech is recovering from two operations. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Carol Keech is recovering from two operations and says she felt "depressed and emotional" being deaf and not having an Auslan interpreter in hospital.(ABC News: Lucas Hill)

"I couldn't understand what she was saying, my brain couldn't think, I was all scrambled, so I just signed it and sent it off," she said.

YOUTUBEWatch an Auslan intepreter sign this ABC News story

Mrs Keech said she woke up after the operation with no interpreter and felt completely in the dark.

"I'm not comfortable, I'm a little bit frightened about what is going on and I'm watching them and seeing all these drips in my arm and wondering what they all are," she said.

The 57-year-old said complaints were made and the hospital arranged for an Auslan interpreter to be there, in person, for two sessions a day.

But she still missed important information if doctors or dieticians did their rounds when the interpreter was absent.

Now she is calling for better services for deaf hospital patients.

"They must have interpreters there, 24 hours at night and in the morning.

"The communication was broken right down, all the nurses kept saying, 'You'll be right, you'll be right', and I was like, 'No, it's not good'.

"I'm frightened, without an interpreter I feel like I was broken, I was shattered."

Parents confused about daughter's care

Linda Flesser-Bone has also struggled to communicate in hospitals.

She and her partner are deaf and have a child — 14-month-old Sylvia — who needs her blood glucose level tested every four hours.

The toddler has been taken to large south-east Queensland hospitals three times with dangerously low blood sugar.

Woman sits at a table in a park shelter with medical equipment in front of her.
Lisa Flesser-Bone says it is "so hard" without an Auslan interpreter to understand what is happening with her daughter's care.(ABC News: Emma Pollard)

"There's no interpreters that come into the emergency area, there's nothing, they just write notes, but I don't understand what they've written," Ms Flesser-Bone said.

She said when interpreter services were arranged via video calls, they often froze or dropped out.

"You can do a video call, but I prefer to have someone there face to face so that I can really get them to unpack it," Ms Flesser-Bone said.

She said she needed to know exactly what was happening with her daughter's care.

"I feel angry, I need an interpreter there to make sure that she's going to be okay.

"I want to know what they're going to give her, what they're doing, but there's no explanation and I don't understand anything.

"I prefer to have an interpreter there so I can understand everything, without an interpreter there I've got nothing," she said.

Many deaf people have poor literacy

Auslan interpreter and advocate Gail Smith said she has 32 deaf people in her family, including deaf parents, grandparents, a deaf daughter and granddaughter.

She said there were issues with interpreting services in hospitals and other medical settings across the country.

Woman with long hair stands under a tree in a park with three people behind her.
Auslan interpreter and advocate Gail Smith disputes Queensland Health's claim interpreters are always available in hospitals. (ABC News: Emma Pollard)

"I probably get about 15 video calls every fortnight from deaf people and I hear the stories … so it is a massive problem right across Australia and I would say it's happening more times than not.

"More times they're not being able to get access to interpreters than they actually are," she said.

She said a common misconception is that deaf patients can read and write to communicate with medics.

"It would be great if deaf people had really good literacy, but a lot of deaf people, their education was so poor, the research shows that in Queensland the literacy levels are about grade 3.5.

"So [it can be like] asking a grade three child to understand medical terms and the grammatical structure of Auslan and English is different too," she said.

A Queensland Health spokesperson said in a statement it was not possible to comment on individual cases.

The spokesperson said interpreter services are made available "at all hospital and health services 24 hours a day, at no charge to the patient".

But Ms Smith said she did not believe this was the case and called on the government to review its contracts with Auslan interpreting agencies, improve the availability of qualified interpreters and educate staff about how to book them.

Queensland Health said Auslan interpreters were used on at almost 4,000 occasions by Queensland Health in 2020.

"Interpreting services delivered via a video conference are used when an on-site interpreter is not available," the spokesperson said.

Queensland Health said its objective "is to ensure all people feel understood, respected and dignified about their own health and wellbeing, to make informed decisions."

"They really need to think outside of the box and understand what it's like to be deaf," Ms Smith said.

"They need to live in a deaf world for one day and they'll see the barriers that are in place, it's traumatic for these Deaf people and until everyone gets educated, it's not going to change," she said.


Source: ABC

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