I am grateful to Hospital Phoenix in the comments section of NHS Blog Doctor's latest post (on the proposal for doctors to be able to prescribe "social services" presumably without extra funding) for pointing me to these articles in February 24's British Medical Journal arguing for and against cuts to interpreting and translation services in the National Health Service. (And here and here are the comments).
These were in turn inspired by a BBC report here estimating the costs of such services.
In the BMJ article arguing for cuts in NHS interpreting/translating services GP Kate Adams suggests that doctors should be able to "prescribe" English classes andd to quote "when the NHS is facing a huge financial crisis, is it in anyone's interest to see the costs of translation services increasing?". Oh ... so interpreters should accept less pay, or English teachers are cheaper than interpreters?
I am appalled!
Read the articles yourself - here I will confine myself to why such services are so valuable to ourselves and why any proposed cuts would harm our daughter Kezia.
Kezia will be three years old next month. She is learning both the language of her birth place and English but is hardly proficient to articulate how she feels to medical staff in whatever language. Her mother, Nanda, does not speak English and is not British. Kezia is British because I am. Nanda needs to articulate for Kezia. Nanda does not really want to be in the U.K. but we both want Kezia to be better so we are reluctantly a separated family but from where I am writing she would be dead by now.
The NHS has provided Nanda with interpreting services when Kezia has to go to hospital. And the excellent Language Line telephone interpreting services are available if there is an emergency in the middle of the night. If such services were not available, Nanda would not know what to do, would not be able to call the hospital, call for an ambulance etc and this could potentially be fatal for Kezia.
Nanda has now declined interpreting services for regular hospital visits as she now feels she knows the routines well and, more often than not, understands what is required medically much better than an interpreter who is unfamiliar with chemotherapy, Hickman lines, lumber punctures etc. Being told what you already know can feel a bit patronising. But we are both comforted to know the services are available if required.
But Kate Adams would prescribe English classes for Nanda. I'm not sure how she would organise them. Two or three visits to the hospital each week, on different days, at different times, looking after Kezia at home, picking Jaime up from school, shopping, housework ... Kate, will the NHS pay for a childminder for Kezia whilst Nanda has her English classes? Will the NHS chaperone Kezia to hospital whilst Nanda has her English classes?
The General Medical Council states "To communicate effectively you must make sure, wherever practical, that arrangements are made to meet patients' language and communication needs".
I'll raise a glass to that!
(Here's an interesting link to the Poseidon Trial which "is a research study designed to see whether people who go to story-sharing groups in their own language led by a bilingual health advocate, get better control of their diabetes and make other health improvements, compared to people who have standard education sessions led by nurses").