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King’s Lynn Queen Elizabeth Hospital praised for dealing with language barrier

Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital earned praise for dealing with the language barrier, according to a new survey.

The report also said patients who do not speak English are not being offered translation at Norfolk’s GP surgeries, and some patients at one hospital were denied access to help.

The county’s patient watchdog Healthwatch Norfolk is now calling for all surgeries and hospitals to make sure they are providing adequate and appropriate translation services.

Healthwatch Norfolk language logo.
Healthwatch Norfolk language logo.

It also says patients can choose whether they need help, and it is not up to medical staff to decide whether people can have translation services.

Healthwatch Norfolk discovered people were told they had lived in the country long enough they should not need an interpreter, the service was too expensive for a hospital, or patients had to find people in their community to translate if they could not get an interpreter.

Some were seeking care for their children and felt the inability to both communicate with staff and understand treatments increased stress levels.

The findings were part of a study carried out by five Healthwatch organisations across the country. Healthwatch Norfolk was so concerned by what it found that it has completed a report based on what it found in the county to draw attention to the issues.

It worked with GYROS which supports migrants, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities across East Anglia, to help build links with communities and talk to people about their experiences.

• GP surgeries

All the respondents said they did not receive an interpreter for GP surgery appointments. These communication issues could mean health issues were not fully addressed.

In one case, a Lithuanian patient said she needed to see her GP for a cervical screening, approached her community and “found a young boy who agreed to translate and when we got there, the situation was very embarrassing.”

• Hospital experiences

Accessibility at hospital appointments varied. Patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Lynn, and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital were happy, with one Romanian speaker from Great Yarmouth saying doctors and nurses often helped if an interpreter was not available.

Meanwhile, some of the people who shared their stories said the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston refused interpreters.

• Other health services

A Latvian speaker had mental health and counselling services with an English speaker, and had to communicate through a Russian-speaking interpreter which left her feeling upset.

Those who used 111 said the service is excellent if they can get an interpreter but it can be hard to explain to call-handlers they need one.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk.
Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk.

• Reaction

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk (above), said: “The findings of this survey are very worrying. It is stressful enough needing health care. When you can’t understand what is going on for you or your loved ones, this pressure is exacerbated.

“It is not up to health care staff to decide whether someone should have access to an interpreter, and there is undoubtedly a need for more training and awareness around this issue."

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