A KIRKHEATON family are calling for more sign language interpreters in Kirklees
Joyce Higgins, 72, and her late husband Jeffrey were unable to communicate with doctors when Mr Higgins was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It was left to Mr Higgins’s son Robert, and daughters Stephanie and Val, to sign to him that he was dying.
That is because there are only three sign language interpreters in Kirklees – but many hundreds of people who need them.
The family have nothing but praise for the interpreters, but say more are needed.
The family are now speaking about their experiences at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary in the hope of highlighting the issue .
Mr Higgins was 61 when he died of cancer last November.
During his time in hospital, Mr Higgins required an interpreter to tell him what the doctors were saying while his wife also needed assistance – but often no-one was available.
It was left to Robert to inform his father that his cancer was terminal.
The family say nurses would speak loudly to the couple, despite both of them having been born deaf.
Stephanie, 37, said: “In September last year my dad went into hospital and we found out he had a tumour.
“Nobody spoke to Joyce, nobody told her anything and there was not an interpreter to help her.
“I think it’s shocking that my brother had to tell my dad that he had a brain tumour.
“It was the same when we found out he had cancer, and when we found out it was terminal.
“The nurses would shout at him, it would drive me mad because I’d say ‘he’s deaf’ and they’d shout louder.
“There are three interpreters in Kirklees and they really were great, but they couldn’t always get there so my dad and Joyce were left not knowing what was going on.”
Robert, 34, added: “If someone is deaf they cannot hear, so why shout at them?
“I have lost my rag a few times but it’s because I get frustrated, but that’s nothing compared to how I felt having to tell him he was dying.
“I was in the room (at St James’, Leeds) and the doctor came in and told me.
“Well dad could see in my face that it was bad, I had no time to digest the news – this was my dad and I had to tell him that he was dying.”
And it’s not uncommon. The family have heard stories about people, some young children, who have to sign to a loved one that they are seriously ill.
Robert is now training to be a British Sign Language interpreter in the hope of preventing families experiencing what they did. They would also like to see sign language taught in school or at least offered as an option.
A spokesperson for Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust said: “We take our responsibility towards those with hearing impairments extremely seriously.
“Systems are in place for people who need sign-language interpreters wherever possible.
“This is not the standard of service we expect to offer and we will be looking into this case further.
“Although we cannot discuss individual cases in the press because of patient confidentiality we would welcome the opportunity to speak with the family.”