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GDA responds to Holby City episode

In response to an episode of Holby City broadcast on Tuesday 12 November, GDA has filed a letter of complaint to the BBC about the inappropriateness of a young daughter acting as interpreter for her Deaf father in a medical situation. Below is a copy of the letter.
Thursday 14 November 2013 

Dear Sir/Madam,

HOLBY CITY – Tuesday 12 November 8pm

I wish to submit a formal complaint against the storyline around a Deaf man featured on this week’s Holby City. 

In this programme, the character (played by See Hear’s Memnos Costi) was portrayed as having a serious heart condition. His first language is BSL and his interaction with the medical staff, including his surgeon, was shown to be made possible by his nine-year-old daughter acting as interpreter.

I was at first delighted to see a storyline around a Deaf sign language user and the enormous communication difficulties that arise when they go into hospital and need to interact with medical staff. 

However this delight quickly turned to disappointment and then, to be honest, outrage as the storyline unfolded. As some one who heads a charity dealing with Deaf sign language users everyday, it is impossible not to worry about the damage this will do to viewers’ and, more importantly, medical staff’s understanding of Deafness.

Let me be specific:

  • There was an assumption that it is acceptable for a family member to act as interpreter for a Deaf person in a medical situation where that Deaf person’s life might be at risk. This flies in the face of the belief of any charity or organisation that works with Deaf BSL users and understands the specific skills of a BSL interpreter which goes way beyond simple translation of one language to another.

I sit across from a colleague who at the age of 15 was put in that position with her Deaf parents when her mother was unexpectedly taken seriously ill. At the hospital the medical staff forgot completely that she was a daughter first, and interpreter second. She was expected to convey first to her mother complicated medical terminology about why she would be going down to the operating theatre for an emergency operation, which sent her mother into a state of acute anxiety. She died of a heart attack before coming out of the operation. At that point, the medical staff then relied on my colleague, despite her own shock and grief to act again as interpreter so they could relay the information to her father. 

It has taken twenty to thirty years for people working with the Deaf Community to have medical authorities understand how critical it is for a fully qualified BSL interpreter, who will have taken years to train in their profession, to be the one that acts as an communication conduit in these situations, not just because they have the medical terminology at their fingertips, but also because they are emotionally neutral in what can be such an emotionally charged situation.

In short, would anyone ever expect a child to convey to a critically ill parent the details of the medical condition and then, watching them die, convey that to the other parent? It would be unthinkable. 

  • In addition the programme showed the medical staff relying on texting as an adequate alternative to communicating with the Deaf patient. In some circumstances, this can be fine if the Deaf patient has good literacy skills, but what immediately came to my mind was an incident earlier this year when I was called to hospital and told that a doctor is quite relaxed that his patient has understood everything that has been said because it was ‘written down’. On this occasion, I knew from our knowledge of this patient that he couldn’t even read, so was simply nodding at the doctor, and he had absolutely no idea that he had just undergone major bowel surgery. His 94 year old mother had signed his consent form when he was first admitted to hospital and hadn’t even been able to get to hospital to see him since because she had no transport. He had been in hospital for 21 days before the medical staff realised to call us for a BSL interpreter.

I could go on and on, about the inappropriateness of the daughter in Holby City being reprimanded for mis-interpreting to her father as just another way of highlighting the essential need for a BSL interpreter being there, but no, you portrayed it that she was in the wrong to have fibbed to her father.

I am quite sure you will have received dozens of complaints in the same vein as I am writing to you, so I leave it for them to echo these worries or raise other concerns with you.

Yours faithfully 

Jenny Hopkins
Chief Executive

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