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Deaf patient says he was handcuffed after sign language dispute

Image – Gary Cooper (left) with Chris Mellor (credit Local Democracy Reporting Service)

A deaf hotelier from Blackpool is calling on hospitals to ensure they can provide sign language interpreters after he says a delay in finding one caused him distress when he collapsed on holiday.

Gary Cooper, who runs Grays Hotel on Reads Avenue in the resort, said he became so upset by the situation the police had to handcuff him.

He was visiting Edinburgh when he collapsed and was taken to A&E at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

Gary said he was told it would take four days to find a sign language interpreter and so discharged himself instead of waiting for treatment. After travelling back home to Blackpool, he suffered further collapses and had to be taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “When I was taken to hospital in Edinburgh there should have been an interpreter in A&E, but they said it would be four days before they could get an interpreter.

“I shouted ‘where is my interpreter’ and the police came and tried to talk to me. They handcuffed me and said I was blocking the emergency access and shouting.

“I got frustrated and I was angry and suffering from anxiety, so I self-discharged.”

Gary, who was suffering from low blood pressure and is currently under investigation for heart issues, travelled back to Blackpool and got home despite suffering a further collapse in Carlisle.

He was poorly again on arriving home and an ambulance was called which took him to A&E at Blackpool Victoria Hospital. On that occasion, he was accompanied by his communication support worker Chris Mellor and so did not require an interpreter.

Gary, who was born deaf, said: “All hospitals should have sign language interpreters they can call on quickly when a deaf patient is brought in.

“Otherwise it is very distressing as there are medical terms you can find it difficult to understand, and it is frightening for someone if they do not understand what is happening because there is no-one to interpret for them.

“There is a reliance on people having family or friends to help them, but I was travelling alone in Edinburgh. It can also deter deaf people from going to hospital if they feel they can’t communicate.

“If someone is in an emergency situation, and they can’t get a sign language interpreter, they may not get the right treatment.”

Gary welcomes many deaf guests to his hotel for holidays in Blackpool and says they need to know the right support is in place should they need hospital treatment while away from their usual support at home.

Alison MacDonald, nurse director at NHS Lothian, which operates Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, said: “We are sorry that Mr Cooper had to wait for an interpreter when he arrived in the emergency department.

“We endeavour to provide a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter for scheduled appointments and as quickly as possible during emergency care and presentations.

“If an official interpreter is not available from the service, we often ask staff members who can sign to assist in the interim. We did offer this to Mr Cooper, however he preferred to wait for an official translator.”

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals, which operates Blackpool Victoria Hospital, says it uses local company Co-Sign to provide sign language services for deaf patients.

 It says: “We recognise the importance of clear communication, our interpretation and translation services make it easy for patients and visitors who need support. “

The hospital says it has “a large pool of interpreters available to us 24 hours per day”, with British Sign Language interpreters also available to book in advance for appointments. Hearing loops are also available on request.

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