Ap­palling ser­vice for Wales’ deaf peo­ple

Western Mail - - WM2 -

PEO­PLE in Wales are prob­a­bly un­aware that in 2009/10 the Welsh Gov­ern­ment gave a grant of £120,000 to a con­sor­tium of un­elected pub­lic bod­ies to set up a Welsh In­ter­preter and Trans­la­tion Ser­vice (WITS). The aim of this was to pro­vide a on­estop ser­vice for for­eign-lan­guage in­ter­pret­ing for hos­pi­tals and coun­cils to en­able them to deal with eth­nic mi­nori­ties seek­ing their ser­vices. The ser­vice was run by Gwent Po­lice un­til the sum­mer of this year.

On the face of it this was a much­needed ini­tia­tive to save costs and sim­plify the pro­cure­ment of in­ter­preters for pub­lic bod­ies. How­ever, an ill-in­formed and ig­no­rant de­ci­sion was made by the WITS board to in­clude sign lan­guage in­ter­pret­ing for deaf peo­ple in the ser­vice. Un­til then this ser­vice for deaf pa­tients in Wales had been pro­vided by the Wales Coun­cil for Deaf Peo­ple and RNID. The deaf person would con­tact one of the

char­i­ties, which would ar­range for an in­ter­preter of choice for the deaf person to at­tend the hos­pi­tal or GP con­sul­ta­tion and in­voice the lo­cal health board for the prea­greed ser­vice. This long-stand­ing ar­range­ment came to an abrupt end when some badly ad­vised health boards de­cided to em­brace the WITS sys­tem. Deaf pa­tients were for­bid­den to dis­cuss ap­point­ments with the Gwent Po­lice-run WITS. Un­der WITS deaf peo­ple are not told by the health boards whether an in­ter­preter would be present for an NHS health ses­sion and who the in­ter­preter would be. Ap­point­ments had to be de­ferred if a WITS in­ter­preter failed to turn up. Se­ri­ously ill deaf pa­tients had to strug­gle with their GPs or NHS con­sul­tants with­out a promised in­ter­preter and their health wors­ened in some cases due to mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Gwent Po­lice adopted a Pon­tius Pi­late stance and re­fused to deal with com­plaints from deaf peo­ple, say­ing that it was the health board’s prob­lem, not theirs. The pos­si­bil­ity of cor­po­rate man­slaugh­ter charges against the WITS board could arise be­cause of the ap­palling ser­vice to deaf peo­ple.

Sign lan­guage in­ter­pret­ing should never have been taken over by WITS. Cardiff Coun­cil now hosts WITS and recog­nises that sign lan­guage is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from oral lan­guages. If Cardiff Coun­cil fails to get the WITS board to al­low deaf peo­ple to directly dis­cuss their ap­point­ments with WITS staff, then sign lan­guage pro­vi­sion should be re­moved from WITS and re­verted to the char­i­ties of and for deaf peo­ple. Cedric Moon Cardiff Deaf Sup­port Group

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