A report has found that local NHS services are poorly serving those who don’t speak English as a first language.

The study by Healthwatch Liverpool found: “People who experience language barriers struggle at all points of their healthcare journey.

“They find it difficult to register with a GP, access urgent care, navigate large healthcare premises, explain their problems, or understand what the doctor says.”

The study found: “Interpreters were difficult to access for patients and service users, and some did not even know that they were entitled to them during healthcare appointments.”

This left many having to consult with heathcare workers by utilising friends or family to interpret.

Other patients “had to rely on their own limited English, use other means to communicate such as hand gestures, or record consultations discussing their medical issues either via a device or on paper to be later translated by somebody else.”

When not provided with support, the report found appointments had to be cancelled or rescheduled.

When support was provided, the report found it was frequently “inadequate”. Interpreters were found to be late, provided inappropriate support, were an inappropriate gender for the patient to feel comfortable or spoke the wrong dialect or language.

Staff were also found to struggle. Staff apparently felt “constrained” when there was a language barrier.

Many felt they were not able to communicate to other departments language needs for patients. Staff frequently cited problems such as staffing, time, resources, and budgets as to the reasons why these problems came up.

The report recommended improvements including automatic alert systems to flag people’s language needs; easier access to translated resources, and flexible support based on individual needs.

Anna Kettle, spokesperson for the NHS Liverpool’s Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We understand that being able to communicate effectively with patients is an essential part of providing safe and effective care, and we are committed to making that as easy as possible for all patients in Liverpool.

“As part of this ongoing work, we were pleased to commission and launch new services for spoken and sign language interpreters and translations last Autumn, helping to ensure that the same, high-quality support is consistently in place for patients who rely on braille, BSL, or other interpretation services – wherever they access care from.”


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