Increasing interpreter services is often thought of as the best response to Deaf health inequalities. Sadly, this actually perpetuates and creates further entrenched inequalities. As indigenous BSL-users, British Deaf people suffer in a unique and discriminatory way when there is an insufficient language provision in the NHS.
The ‘Just Interpreter’ approach creates a financially inefficient use of personnel and resources. Interpreters, doctors and Deaf patients spend a short 10 or 15 minutes together in a GP surgery, and accomplish very little in terms of relaying symptoms, describing treatments or advice, and understanding well-being. With only about 800 registered interpreters to serve to needs of thousands of Deaf patients in England, this is indeed a leaky bandage!
Even worse, it is usually the case that interpreters are significantly under-qualified to interpret in a medical/health environment. More confusion is created for Deaf patients when a translation relay results in utter communication and comprehension breakdown. When pre-booked interpreters do not arrive, or a provision is not made by GPs’ surgeries, family or friends are often relied on, which again are unable to fully convey the import or seriousness of medical terminology and diagnosis.
Approaches to accessible information for Deaf people are often a catch-all of providing Easy-Read pamphlets or English translated/Sign Supported English videos. Culturally and cognitively these either do not reach and often overlook Deaf patients, or are found to be confusing or patronizing. Neither of these approaches utilizes fluent BSL.