A number of heartbreaking stories have been shared with Healthwatch Sheffield, the consumer watchdog for health and social care services in the city.
Ronnie Kelly, who was deaf, had to be told by his daughter that he was dying from terminal cancer because the hospital couldn’t get a sign language interpreter for him.
He was frightened and isolated while in hospital as staff wore masks and he couldn’t lip read.
His widow Sue, who is also deaf, highlighted their trauma with Healthwatch Sheffield but the watchdog says more people have come forward to complain after widespread media coverage.
Healthwatch chairman Judy Robinson told a meeting: “One woman said her friend passed away in hospital after being there for several weeks, with no visitors, including interpreters, until near the end of her life, which likely meant she couldn’t communicate about what was happening to her.
“Health and social care services send out letters to deaf people expecting them to telephone back and it’s fairly obvious that’s not such a bright idea.
“This has further consequences, for instance hospital referrals not being taken up because people cannot phone to make their appointment.
“We also continue to hear that people who rely on lip reading are struggling with face coverings in care settings.
“There doesn’t appear to be clear guidance for staff on what to do in this situation, so some staff will work with the person to find a solution, while others will say there’s nothing they can do.
“There are many people who are in the same position as Susan. We have been saying this for three years and these become extreme examples because the quiet reporting has gone on but has been ignored so it gets escalated until you end up with the media.
“We should be dealing with things at an early stage. We don’t want to be in a position where we’re giving those awful stories, that’s a sign of failure. We want to feel we’re part of the system and alerting you early on.”
Sheffield Clinical Care Commissioning Group and Sheffield Health and Social Care both said they are discussing the issue.