Sheffield woman forced to tell her deaf father he had weeks to live after hospital couldn't get interpreter

A stepdaughter had to tell her deaf stepfather that he had just weeks to live because the hospital couldn't get a sign language interpreter for him.

The man, known as Ronnie, died two weeks after discovering he had terminal cancer. While in hospital he couldn't lip read as staff wore masks and he was left frightened and isolated.

Ronnie, who was also diagnosed with Alzheimers, was initially sent to hospital for three days of tests after blood results showed something was wrong.

Due to current restrictions, he wasn't allowed visitors, but when his step-daughter Annie Hadfield asked if he would have an interpreter, she was told this couldn't be guaranteed.

She said: "I've always been the interpreter for my mum and step-dad in these situations because they're both deaf.

"But when Ronnie was taken into hospital I wanted to make sure everything could be communicated properly so asked if they would provide one.

"For three days no one spoke to him.

"He didn't know why he was there. They'd given him a Covid test and couldn't tell him what it was and why they were giving it to him.

"And for someone who suffers with Alzheimers it must have been so terrifying."

Doctors tried to treat Ronnie for the cancer, but a few days later it became necessary to tell him there was nothing more they could do.

After making it clear that Ronnie was deaf, Annie was allowed into the appointment, but his wife Sue, who is also deaf, was told wait outside.

"He said, it's not good news you need to get your affairs in order", Annie said.

"I just stopped. I couldn't believe the way that he'd said it. I then had to pass it on to him and the first thing he said was, 'I need to tell Sue.'

"So not only did I need to tell my stepdad that he's terminal and he's dying, I then had to tell my mum as well.

I was so angry inside at the fact I had to break both my parents hearts and there was nothing that I could do for them. The whole situation just wasn't thought about. Why should I have had to do that?

Annie Hadfield, step-daughter

Sue said: "I had a really sad and really bad experience with my husband Ronnie. The hospital treatment wasn't very good for him and I asked the Deaf Advice Service if they would explain my story on my behalf because I'm still too emotional.

"It happened last April so I can't talk about it but wanted to share it."

Sue refused to allow Ronnie to be re-admitted to hospital because staff couldn't communicate and he died at home two weeks later.

Kate Bushen, a supervisor at the Deaf Advice Team which is part of Citizens Advice Sheffield, said: "A week later Sue received a letter saying the hospital were going to arrange a phone call with Ronnie about his ill health. 

"It was too late, he had passed away, but even if he hadn't, how were they going to communicate over the phone when they were both deaf? Why was that not on their medical records? This really upset her.

Everything is by whatsapp or video because of coronavirus. Sue has to fill in forms but can't do any of that face to face. She is really upset, grieving and isolated. She is absolutely heartbroken.

Kate Bushen, Supervisor at the Deaf Advice Team, Citizens Advice Sheffield

Dr David Hughes, Medical Director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals said the Trust was "very sorry", acknowledged more needed to be done and said staff were actively looking at making improvements.

"We do have a British Sign Language interpreter service available and processes for raising if a patient has specific communication needs so we will be undertaking a review to understand what happened in this instance. 

"We will look to make changes where necessary to limit the chances of a similar situation occurring in the future. 

"We do use Ipads to support face to face communication with patients and relatives when they are in hospital and ward staff will use written communication if needed rather than speech. 

"Masks are an issue in the current times but we are looking at options for clear masks which are of the required standard for infection control too. 

"The letter for a follow up appointment was actually sent the day Ronnie passed away but our staff would not have known that otherwise the letter would not have been sent out."