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NHS 'failing' non-English speakers

3rd September 2010

Caroline Wright, Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology trainee, argues that the NHS is failing those patients who do not speak English.

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Language barriers are known to contribute to health inequalities and the proportion of non-English speaking patients will increase as the migrant population in Britain continues to grow.

Caring for patients with limited English is stressful, time consuming and risky for health professionals and even worse for the patient.

In my area of obstetrics and gynaecology, where emergencies are common and complaints are of a sensitive nature, use of interpretation through relatives or local interpreters is a difficult area.

There are situations where an interpreter would have helped with language barriers but the patient may not disclose sensitive issues with another party present.

I believe it is totally unrealistic to expect all patients to speak English, however services to support patients who do not speak the language do need to be readily available and we need to do more to promote them in a healthcare setting.

Poorer outcomes and reduced patient satisfaction are often linked with limited English. With the migrant population increasing, this is an area the NHS needs to deal with.

Translated leaflets are often not the answer, and the need for more funding for interpreting services is desperately needed. Increased numbers of interpreters would allow improved flexibility along with better training of staff in working with interpreters.

The NHS needs to do more to support doctors and health care professionals in facing the challenge of overcoming language barriers and improving care for those patients with limited or no English.

 

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