DEAF patients are being denied fair access to healthcare in York, a damning report has found.

One deaf mother had to watch her baby have an unexplained injection and another person had her blood taken without being told why, a report by watchdog Healthwatch York said.

At York Hospital, one cancer patient’s son had to tell his father the condition was terminal, due to a lack of available sign language interpreters.

Young mothers have said they are worried about getting to the GP when their babies are ill due to a two to three week waiting list for an interpreter.

Healthwatch York said there was a “significant litigation risk” arising from misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

The watchdog said: “This work has revealed that there are a number of problems faced by deaf people in accessing health and social care services in York. Deaf people are also excluded from a wide range of public meetings and engagement events as no provision is made for their inclusion.

“Deaf people are not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment.”

At a public meeting for deaf people in York last summer, the majority of reported problems related to GP surgeries, with patients struggling to book appointments and a lack of access to interpreters.

NHS England has said it is the responsibility of GP surgeries to ensure access to interpreters, the report notes.

While access to interpreters is a longstanding problem, recent changes to the health service had “made things worse”, service users said.

Some reported being left in the waiting rooms at doctor and hospital appointments because they did not hear their name called and there were no visual indicators.

York councillor Neil Barnes, who has a hearing impairment, said: “From visiting your GP, to attending public meetings or wishing to visit the cinema, access to these can be taken for granted by hearing people.

“Whereas for deaf or hard of hearing people, it’s made much harder by lack of access and understanding.”

He welcomed the Healthwatch report and praised the local deaf community for their contributions. He said he would raise the issue of access to meetings with the city council.

In March 2010, there were 250 people registered as deaf and 916 hard of hearing in the city.

York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said an Access to Services group had now been formed to look at issues and make recommendations.

Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones, City of York Council’s director of health and wellbeing, said there was equal access to most services but said: “This excellent report from Healthwatch shows that there is room for improvement and we will work closely with Healthwatch, local stakeholders and deaf people to further understand how we can make improvements.”

Dr Mark Hayes, chief clinical officer of NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said its new Equality Diversity and Human Rights Strategy outlines a guarantee to promote equality.

Case study

YORK man Matt Dixon had to tell his father he was going to die due to a lack of sign language interpreters.

As the only hearing person in his family, Matt, 33, accompanied his father, Phillip, to interpret at more than 60 appointments as he was treated for cancer because a trained interpreter was generally not available.

At a chemotherapy appointment at York Hospital they were asked to see the consultant when she broke the news Phillip’s cancer was terminal.

“It was horrendous,” Matt said, “We were called in and the doctor was using a lot of medical terms which I was relaying back to him in broken sign language. Then she said ‘we need to focus on palliative care’.

"The thing that really gets me was my Dad’s face. When I told him, he just smiled. He was controlling his emotions to protect me and he said, ‘I just have to accept it’, which just cut me up.

“An interpreter would have been a professional communicator. Rather than me being there to support my dad, he had to support me, which is completely wrong.”

Philip, 56, from the Stockton Lane area, died at home five months later, in the summer of 2009.

Matt, a police detective in South Yorkshire, has since begun to train as a sign language interpreter and helps to write for The Limping Chicken website, a deaf news website.

He is campaigning for the British Sign Language Act – a legal right for deaf people to receive support from registered communication professionals, for which an e-petition has been signed by thousands of people.

A spokeswoman for York Hospital said: “We are sorry to hear about Mr Dixon’s experiences. Through the trust’s Access To Services group we can make recommendations to improve the interpreting services we provide for our patients who are deaf.”