Deaf New Zealanders at risk in medical emergencies

A majority of district health boards (DHBs) around the country don’t provide 24/7 access to sign language interpreters, which puts deaf people at significant risk in medical emergencies, the Green Party said today.

A report released yesterday by Deaf Action New Zealand showed that only eight of 20 DHBs say they can provide access to sign language interpreters 24/7. Deaf Action’s investigation was prompted by the experience of Kim Robinson, who was unable to access an interpreter for 64 hours during an emergency situation in Whangarei in 2016.

“Medical emergencies are already scary enough – imagine how terrifying it is if you can’t understand what is happening or can’t communicate what’s wrong,” said Green Party Disability spokesperson Mojo Mathers.

“It’s completely unacceptable that a deaf person had to wait more than two days for a hospital to find someone that they could communicate with. I’m concerned that this issue may be widespread.

“Some regions have made good progress in working to improve their systems, but it’s extremely worrying that there are still 12 DHBs that cannot guarantee prompt access to sign language interpreters.

“The report also highlighted that a number of DHBs were unable to explain what happened to their interpretation services outside of working hours, and that there is a overreliance on non-qualified interpreters.

“It was also incredibly frustrating to learn that not one DHB referred to the services offered by Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) which has been available since 2009.

“National have underfunded the health system to the tune of $1.7 billion since coming into power, and it is clear that their cuts are affecting people when they need help the most.

“We need clear and enforceable legislation to ensure access for disabled New Zealanders to crucial services, and that’s why the Green Party is supporting the Accessibility for New Zealanders Act”, said Ms Mathers.