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Monthly Award Winning Story: Ingenious (and money-saving) way to talk to non-English speakers (25 Aug 06)

Congratulations to Bernadette Speakman, PALS Manager, Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals

Bernadette Speakman wrote to tell us how Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals NHS Trust use their own staff to act as interpreters. A very relevant story for anyone providing services to non-English speakers.

Bernie SpeakmanBernadette says,

“The Fylde Coast only has very small numbers of patients whose first language is not English.

Only 3.2% of the population is from a minority ethnic group, according to the 2001 census - and they are mostly “white other” and “white Irish”.

However, the Trust is a regional cardiac centre and takes patients from East Lancashire, some from minority ethnic groups, mainly Asian. Those groups make up 9% of the workforce and 16 million people visit the resort each year.

As there is only a very small need for interpreting services, it doesn’t make sense for us to employ interpreters or link workers like some other Trusts.

We therefore devised two practical ways to meet the needs of patients and visitors whose first language is not English which made the best possible use of resources. It all starts with the trust recruitment packs, which include information about the staff interpreting services, and forms for those who wish to participate. If they do, they complete the forms and are sent information about what they may be asked to do.

If members of staff are happy to participate and abide by the system’s requirements, they sign to that effect. They are then put onto a database held by the matrons.

Voluntary, no extra pay

If a patient needing help is admitted or attends a clinic and it is appropriate, matron first refers to the database. Where the situation is not appropriate, the professional service is used.

Staff do this work voluntarily when on duty if they can be released to do so. They enjoy keeping up their language skills, and if they are from overseas, they enjoy having a chat with a compatriot.

They do not interpret beyond their level of skill and can refuse if they feel this is being compromised. They write what they have interpreted in the patients’ care records.

They can withdraw at any time if they wish, and as they are on duty the work is unpaid.

The strength of this approach is that it means we have someone who speaks the patient’s language there right at the start. They can take them through the basics and help them settle in.

Impossible by phone

You simply could not provide this service on the telephone.

After all, how can someone at the end of a phone point out different staff, explain where the toilets are, when the meal trolleys arrive, how we can cater for dietary needs or tell people about things like the chaplaincy services?

Doctors have been particularly willing to take part in this service, and gladly interpret for their colleagues. One consultant speaks fluent Mandarin and visited a ward to interpret for a colleague at the medical level, but within the procedures.

A Spanish nurse recently translated the Spanish emergency records of an English patient injured whilst on holiday in sunny Spain, and had a good chat to the patient at the same time about the Spanish health services.

This service isn’t used very often - probably about 30 times in the last year - as the needs are not great. But it works very well, is extremely cost-effective and staff and patients really appreciate it.

For a trust where full-time interpreters are not needed, and since telephone services have their drawbacks, this is an ideal bridge, and works very well with the right systems in place and staff commitment."

Any news from you?

Have you and your colleagues come up with any imaginative ways to meet the communication needs of your service users and communities who aren't native English speakers?

Why not share your experiences with us? If we get enough contributions we will combine them in a special Rod's Reflections on this vital topic.

Every month we invite readers to send in a story to share with colleagues. It might be a tricky problem you managed to solve, a project that went well - or even one that went wrong.

Anything unusual, unexpected or memorable about your work that others can learn from can be enormously helpful. And anything to do with attending one of our courses is interesting both to us and other attendees.

Why not get involved now, while it's fresh in your mind? >>

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And even if you don’t win we'll give you £75 off the cost of any course you choose if we list your story in our library. We can't list everybody's but we'll do our best.

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