UK Gov’s decision not to have sign language interpreter at Covid briefings as in Wales criticised by MPs’ report
The UK Government’s failure to ensure that a sign language interpreter was visible at Covid briefings as happened in Wales hindered their communication strategy, a report by MPs has said.
While First Minister Mark Drakeford and other ministers stood alongside a sign language interpreter at Wales pandemic briefings, the Prime Minister and others did not – with an interpreter sometimes added in a seperate screen by broadcasters.
The cross-party House of Commons Health Committee report calls the failure stop Covid from spreading early in the pandemic one of the worst ever public health failures in UK history.
However, the report predominantly focuses on the response to the pandemic in England, and does not look at steps taken individually by Wales and the other semi-autonomous nations and regions.
It does however focus on sign language interpreters as one thing that Wales and Scotland did that improved upon the UK Government’s communication strategy.
“Although the communications strategy in the initial phase of the pandemic was broadly successful, it is worth noting that there was some confusion over who the stay at home order applied to, and there was criticism of the Government’s decision not to provide a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter on-set at the televised briefings,” the report says.
“Similar briefings in Scotland and Wales did include an interpreter, socially distanced from Ministers.
“In the UK, there are more than 80,000 Deaf people whose first language is BSL. The decision not to include an interpreter at these briefings, where important public health announcements were often made, may have reduced their ability to understand the messages provided and in turn potentially decreased trust and compliance among this group.”
The only other major reference to Wales in the report is to make the point that while the UK Government acted against scientific advice in avoiding an autumn ‘firebreak’ lockdown, Wales’ experience suggested it may not have worked.
“It is impossible to know whether a circuit breaker in the early autumn of 2020 would have had a material effect in preventing a second lockdown given that the Kent (or Alpha) variant may already have been prevalent. Indeed such an approach was pursued in Wales, which still ended up having further restrictions in December 2020,” the report says.
“In this decision not to have a circuit breaker, the UK Government did not follow the official scientific advice. Ministers were clearly over-optimistic in their assumption that the worst was behind us during the summer months of 2020.”
Tory MPs Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, who chair the committees, however said the nature of the pandemic meant it was “impossible to get everything right”.
Speaking on Radio 4 Today’s programme, Jeremy Hunt characterised the UK Government’s pandemic response as a game of two halves where they had made significant blunders in the first half, but decisions had saved many lives in the second.
He admitted that there was a “degree of group-think” in the UK that any major pandemic that would hit the country would be flu-based.