"New iPad system for deaf patients at Derriford leaves Plymouth family 'frustrated and upset'"

Well, there's a lot more to this story in The Herald than the press would have you believe.

Derriford Hospital have been trialling iPads with which non-signing hospital staff and signing patients and their families can communicate using SignLive's video remote interpreting service. It has proven to be problematic in some ways. Internet connectivity across the hospital site appears to be patchy (though I wonder if issuing a powerline extender with each iPad could be a simple workable solution), some patients are not used to or comfortable with tablet technology or remote interpreting for various reasons, and - perhaps most importantly - Deaf patients (and perhaps some interpreters) have become suspicious that the cheaper and more immediate SignLive provision is a way to cut costs, thus removing from the Deaf person the choice to have a live interpreter in the room with them.

Not mentioned in the article is the separate issue that the hospital trust has agreed a contract with an interpreting agency that has become extremely slow to pay the interpreters for work done on their behalf at the hospital. Some interpreters remain unpaid and many interpreters in the area have taken the difficult decision to not accept assignments from that agency because they need to make a living. The hospital trust is unable to make interpreter bookings directly with the interpreters or via other agencies because of their contractual commitment to this particular agency. The consequence of this is that it is very difficult for the trust to use live interpreters, and they are left with just the iPad/SignLive solution, which the end users are unfamiliar with and continues to suffer from snags.

I understand that the hospital trust is looking into that contract in an effort to resolve this failure of interpreter provision.

I think the trust should be commended for embracing video remote interpreting (VRI). The issue of their being locked into a contract with a provider of live interpreting that cannot deliver has become mixed up with the separate issue of VRI. It is important that the use of live interpreters and the use of VRI be considered separately. Yes VRI might be preferentially used by financially constrained public services but are they? I hope that the trust has an open and publicly accessible policy for when they do and do not offer VRI or live interpretation. Historically, when only live interpretation was available, Deaf patients would be highly unlikely to have interpreted access to their care in A&E, at reception, or anywhere a wait of a few days to a few weeks for an interpreter to become available would be inevitable. VRI in principle puts a sign language interpreter into places they have never been, and this is a widening of accessibility, not a narrowing.

There is a net narrowing at present in that hospital because of the problems with their chosen interpreting agency. Hopefully by being open about their interpreting policy and consulting with the local Deaf Community patients will see that VRI provides more access, not less.

Jim Cromwell