Law Centre helps challenge NHS discrimination of Deaf patient

Friday, March 12th 2021


Derbyshire Law Centre is representing a bereaved wife in a discrimination case against a local NHS trust after her late husband suffered ‘diabolical’ treatment while in its care.

Ronnie Kelly was a profoundly deaf man who suffered from both Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. He was admitted to Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust on multiple occasions. However, at no point was he provided with a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter.

This was particularly challenging when, following tests, he got a terminal prognosis and was given between two weeks and two months to live. In the absence of a BSL interpreter, Ronnie’s hearing daughter, Annie Hadfield, was asked to translate his terminal diagnosis while his wife, Susan Kelly, who is also Deaf was left to wait outside the room.

Sadly, Mr Kelly passed away just two weeks later at his home. Following his death, his family has taken legal action against the NHS trust about his treatment. In doing so, they discovered another distressing fact: Ronnie also had a ‘do not resuscitate’ (DNR) order placed on him during his first hospital admission, without his consent and without his family’s knowledge. As Ronnie’s widow Susan said:

“I didn’t know what DNR meant. I had no idea. I was really shocked. They’d never asked me anything about it. That wasn’t right, it was wrong. Ronnie wouldn’t have known what it meant.”

Derbyshire Law Centre is acting for Susan Kelly and arguing that, by failing to make reasonable adjustments for Mr Kelly’s disability and imposing a DNR order without his or his family’s consent, the NHS trust breached the Equality Act 2010, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the NHS accessible information standard.

The Trust is currently undertaking a review to understand what took place. However, such stories are, unfortunately, not uncommon. There are over 80,000 people in the UK who use BSL as their first language, yet they often face barriers to accessing information and services, sometimes with adverse results. Susan Kelly herself was unknowingly fitted with a coronary stent following a heart attack two years ago, due to the lack of an interpreter.

Lisa Haythorne, Solicitor at Derbyshire Law Centre, said:

“This is a really important case for the Deaf community. The case is particularly sad, and both the barrister, Catherine Casserley, and I found listening to the client’s story moving. We have dealt with a number of cases for Deaf clients and often they are not aware of their rights and the basic support that should be put in place to enable them to access services. We have issued County Court proceedings for a damages claim funded by legal aid funding.”

Catherine Casserley, a barrister involved in the Kelly case, said:

“Access to information for disabled people across the board is, in my view, pretty poor and if you are deaf it’s incredibly poor … If you’re a BSL user, then getting access to timely, accurate information is incredibly difficult, particularly with Covid when things have been changing rapidly.”

Mr Kelly’s family hope that the case would raise awareness of the struggles that Deaf people face. Indeed, its outcome could have great implications for future care that they receive.


The Guardian article