Trust apologises after daughter had to tell father he was terminally ill

Mary Carson and her daughter Jillian Shanks brought the case against the Southern Health and Social Care Trust
Mary Carson and her daughter Jillian Shanks brought the case against the Southern Health and Social Care Trust

A Northern Ireland health trust has apologised after the daughter of a terminally ill deaf man had to break the news to her dad that he was going to die.

The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has also paid £7,000 to the family of the now deceased Co Antrim man, to whom they did not provide a sign language interpreter while he was in their care.

“My father, Thomas Carson, was taken ill quite suddenly and, because the hospital did not provide a sign language interpreter, I had to communicate the news to him that his condition was terminal and he was going to die,” Jillian Shanks, Mr Carson’s daughter, said.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland supported Jillian and her mother Mary, who is also deaf, to bring a case under the Disability Discrimination Act over the trust’s failure to provide interpretation services.

“The hospital knew that both my husband and I were deaf and they should have followed their own policy and ensured that we had an interpreter at such a critical time,” Mrs Carson said.

“We just hope that this will mean that no other family have to face such a problem.”

In settling the case, without admission of liability, the trust has apologised for the upset and distress the family experienced and for the fact that, by not providing an interpreter to Mr Carson, it had not acted in accordance with its ‘Policy on Access on Interpreting and Written Translation Services’.

“The lack of a qualified sign language interpreter to communicate with my father and mother during his last days added greatly to the ordeal for all of us,” Mrs Shanks said.

“As a family it was inevitably a most difficult time, but the lack of this key support made it worse. At one stage a picture board was used to try and communicate with my father – that was humiliating and simply not appropriate in the circumstances.”

Anne McKernan, director of legal services, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, welcomed the fact that the trust has now taken steps, on the ward concerned, to highlight the importance of providing independent interpreters for patients who need them.