Concern at deaf man ‘denied’ sign language translator and sent to Hong Kong mental hospital

Patient disputes claim that he communicated effectively with doctors through handwriting

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 7:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 9:55pm

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has expressed concern at a case in which doctors at an emergency unit sent a deaf man to a mental hospital without calling in a sign language translator.

A lawmaker called the incident “incredible”, but the public hospital at the centre of the row defended its handling of the case on Thursday and said the medics had communicated with the patient effectively through handwriting and that neither the man nor his relatives had asked for a translator.

The incident unfolded on November 30 when police received a call from a 61-year-old woman, complaining she had been beaten by her 32-year-old son, who was deaf and suffered emotional and mental illnesses.

The officers suspected the man had mental problems and sent him, accompanied by his wife, to Tuen Mun Hospital for a health inspection.

Public hospitals have guidelines stating that medics should arrange sign language translation for patients who are mute or deaf if they cannot communicate, and there is a list of telephone numbers for NGOs who provided such services.

But a hospital spokesman said the patient was able to communicate effectively through handwriting and that his wife said it was the usual way she addressed him.

The spokesman said the patient had agreed to be moved to Castle Peak Hospital for observation and a mental health assessment on December 2 and had signed the consent form. A doctor had also talked to his wife and father over the telephone and both had agreed to the arrangement.

After being moved to Castle Peak, where he stayed for six days, sign language translators were arranged to help with the assessment, the spokesman said.

But the man told Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily on Tuesday that he could not explain himself to the police officers before they sent him to the hospital as they never arranged the sign language translation.

It is obvious that the lack of communication has led to misjudgment
Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, lawmaker

Using sign language in the interview, he said the medics had communicated with him through handwriting and asked him whether he had beaten his mother. They also asked him to sign the consent form to be admitted into Castle Peak.

When his sister later learnt that he was in hospital she sought help from lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung to explain her brother did not suffer from mental illness – rather he was deaf and sometimes had difficulty communicating as “he was not good at logic”.

Cheung said the incident was incredible and questioned why it had taken so long to provide a translation service.

“The patient may be able to write, but it is obvious that the lack of communication has led to misjudgment,” Cheung said.

The EOC issued a statement on Thursday saying that while it did not know the details of the case it urged relevant people to contact the watchdog if they needed assistance. It also stressed the importance of providing fair treatment to everyone.