Rights of patients who are deaf, hard of hearing to an interpreter in public hospitals

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What are my rights when I go to hospital?

If you are a person who is deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind you have a number of rights under the law relating to your health and the service you get if you go to hospital. This includes getting an Auslan interpreter if you need one.

In most situations, a hospital should make sure you have an Auslan interpreter so you can understand what is happening.

In Victoria, when it comes to getting an Auslan or other Sign Language Interpreter in a public hospital, you have rights under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006 (the Charter). These rights include:

The right to recognition before the law
Everyone has the right to make decisions about their health. You do not lose this right because you are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind.

Non-discrimination
You have the right to enjoy your rights as other people do, which means equal access to hospital services, including reasonable adjustments such as an Auslan interpreter. No one can discriminate against you because you are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind.
Discrimination can include refusing to see you at a hospital or treating you badly because you are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind. Discrimination can also include treating you the same as everyone else when you need to be treated differently in order to access the same service, for example, calling your name over the loudspeaker for your appointment when you need an Auslan interpreter to call you in to your appointment.

Consent to medical treatment
You can only receive medical treatment if you give permission for the treatment yourself after you understand what treatment you will have and what the risks are.

In order to make this decision, doctors and medical professionals must explain the treatment and risks to you in a way that you can understand, including using an Auslan or deafblind interpreter if you need one.

Privacy
You have the right for your medical information to be private and confidential between you, your doctors, nurses, other hospital staff and your interpreter if you need one.

Nobody else can know your medical information unless you say that they can know.

You have a right to information and communication in a way that you can understand so that you can enjoy these rights.

What should the hospital do?

If you need an Auslan or deafblind interpreter or other communication support, you should tell the hospital. The law says that a hospital must arrange an interpreter for you when you ask for one in most situations. The more time that you give the hospital to organise support before your appointment, the more prepared the hospital can be to meet your needs.

Does the National Auslan Interpreter Booking and Payment Service (NABS) apply to public hospital appointments?

No. NABS provides Auslan interpreters for private health care appointments, for example, at your local doctor or private hospital. Public hospitals book Auslan and deafblind interpreters separately through their own booking system.

What about in an emergency?

Doctors or other medical professionals may only give you medical treatment without your permission or without any communication support in a small number of situations, such as when they believe treatment is needed to save your life, to prevent serious damage to your health, to stop you from being in serious pain, or to prevent a lot of other people from getting sick.

However, a doctor cannot give you any form of medical treatment if you have a “refusal of treatment certificate” issued under the Medical Treatment Act 1988.

Can I refuse an interpreter?

Yes. You can refuse to use an interpreter if you have concerns about the way that you are able to communicate or work together with the particular interpreter.

If you cannot or do not want to work with a particular interpreter, you should tell staff at the hospital. The hospital may not be able to find another interpreter if they do not have enough time. You may have to make another appointment for a later date.

You can choose to go ahead with an appointment without an interpreter. However, you may not be able to understand important information that doctors and other medical staff give you or they may not be able to understand important information that you give them. In some situations, hospital staff may not agree to go ahead with an appointment without an interpreter.

Who can interpret for me?

It is best for hospitals to provide you with a professional interpreter for medical appointments.

A hospital cannot make your partner, family members or friends interpret for you. Using these people to interpret for you may mean that information is not interpreted correctly. You may also not be able to talk to your doctors and nurses completely honestly. In some cases, you may not be able to make your own decisions about your health and medical treatment if your partner, family or friend is interpreting for you.

The hospital can stop you from using family and friends where doctors and hospital staff are telling you important medical information or where you need to communicate your own decisions about your medical treatment.

You can bring your partner, friend or family member to a medical appointment with you for emotional support instead of them interpreting for you.

What if the hospital does not provide me with an interpreter?

If the hospital does not give you an interpreter when you ask for one, you can contact a patient advocate, customer liaison officer or complaints area at the hospital. You can also make a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Victorian Ombudsman or the Office of the Health Services Commissioner.