Deaf patients say Queensland hospitals are not providing adequate Auslan services at critical times

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Carol Keech said the stomach pain was “excruciating” when she arrived at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital one night earlier this month.

She suffered a perforation of her esophagus six days after undergoing surgery on the upper gastrointestinal tract.

The situation worsened because Ms Keech is deaf and could not communicate properly with medical staff without an Auslan interpreter.

She said it wasn’t until the next morning, when doctors decided she needed emergency surgery, that an interpreter was arranged by video call.

“And then they had an interpreter on the iPad, I was like ‘Who is this?’

“I’m laying there and she was driving in her car with her seat belt on and she was trying to sign me ‘You have to sign the consent form for the doctor for the operation agreement’, and I’m like, what?

Carol Keech is recovering from two surgeries and says she felt “depressed and emotional” about being deaf and not having an Auslan interpreter in the hospital.(

ABC News: Lucas Hill

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“I couldn’t understand what she was saying, my brain couldn’t think, I was all confused, so I just signed it and sent it,” she said.

Ms Keech said she woke up after the operation without an interpreter and felt completely in the dark.

“I’m not comfortable, I’m a little afraid of what’s going on and I look at them and I see all these drops in my arm and I wonder what they are all”, he said. she declared.

The 57-year-old said complaints had been made and the hospital had arranged for an interpreter from Auslan to be in person for two sessions per day.

But she still lacked important information if doctors or dieticians made their rounds in the absence of the interpreter.

Now she is calling for better services for deaf inpatients.

“They must have interpreters, 24 hours in the evening and in the morning.

“The communication was cut off, all the nurses kept saying, ‘You’ll be right, you’ll be right,’ and I was like, ‘No, that’s not good.’

“I’m scared, without an interpreter I feel like I’m broken, I’ve been broken.”

Parents confused about their daughter’s care

Linda Flesser-Bone also struggled to communicate in hospitals.

She and her partner are deaf and have a child – Sylvia, 14 months old – whose blood sugar needs to be checked every four hours.

The toddler has been taken to major hospitals in South East Queensland three times with dangerously low blood sugar.

A woman sits at a table in a park shelter with medical equipment in front of her.
Lisa Flesser-Bone says it’s “so hard” without an Auslan interpreter to figure out what’s going on with her daughter’s care.(

ABC News: Emma Pollard

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“There are no interpreters who come to the emergency area, there is nothing, they just write notes, but I do not understand what they wrote,” said Ms Flesser- Bone.

She said when interpretation services were organized through video calls, they often froze or gave up.

“You can make a video call, but I’d rather have someone face to face so I can really get it unpacked,” Ms. Flesser-Bone said.

She said she needed to know exactly what was going on with her daughter’s care.

“I feel angry, I need an interpreter there to make sure she’s okay.

“I want to know what they are going to give him, what they are doing, but there is no explanation and I do not understand anything.

“I’d rather have an interpreter there to understand everything, without an interpreter there I have nothing,” she said.

Many deaf people have low literacy skills

Auslan’s interpreter and lawyer 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 interpretation services at hospitals and other medical facilities across the country.

A woman with long hair stands under a tree in a park with three people behind her.
Auslan’s interpreter and attorney, Gail Smith, disputes Queensland Health’s claim interpreters are still available at hospitals. (

ABC News: Emma Pollard

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“I probably get about 15 video calls every fortnight from deaf people and I hear the stories… so it’s a huge problem all over Australia and I would say it happens more often than not.

“More often than not, they cannot have 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 doctors.

“It would be great if deaf people had a very good level of literacy, but a lot of deaf people their education was so poor, research shows that in Queensland literacy levels are around 3.5 years.

“Therefore [it can be like] asking a third-grader to understand medical terms and the grammatical structure of Ausslan and English is also different, ”she said.

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

The spokesperson said that the services of interpreters are available “in all hospital and health services 24 hours a day, at no cost to the patient”.

“Interpretation services provided via videoconference are used when an on-site interpreter is not available.”

Queensland Health said its goal “is to ensure that all people feel understood, respected and worthy of their own health and well-being, in order to make informed decisions.”

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

“They really need to think outside the box and figure out what it’s like to be deaf.

“They need to live in a deaf world for a day and they will see the barriers that are in place, it is traumatic for these deaf people and as long as everyone is not educated, that will not change”, a- she declared.

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