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RPS recommends using translation services following Welsh language prescription row

Professional guidance aims to help pharmacists deal with prescriptions written in Welsh

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Wales has issued guidance to pharmacists on how best to deal with prescriptions written in Welsh. It advises that if pharmacists are presented with a prescription they do not understand, they should consider contacting translation services or use informal networks to help translate the prescription.

Detail from Welsh flag

Source: Mtrommer /

RPS Wales suggests that a Welsh toolkit for community pharmacists which addresses key Welsh phrases, doses and cautionary labels could be a way forward

The two-page “Use of the Welsh language in pharmacy” guide was published following an incident earlier this year (2014), which saw a pharmacist working at a Morrisons’ supermarket pharmacy being criticised for allegedly delaying dispensing a prescription because it was partly written in Welsh. 

At the time, Morrisons defended the pharmacist, stating that “at no stage did we turn the customer away, or refuse to dispense the prescription”.
The guide, which incorporates the view of the Welsh Pharmacy Board of the RPS, says that pharmacists must put patient safety first. “It is your responsibility to find the best way to help the patient. If you are presented with a prescription you do not fully understand, this might [be best resolved] through [using] translation services or informal networks.”

It notes that some local health boards choose the services of Language Line, a business that offers interpreting and language services.

Language Line was not able tell PJ Online whether any of the seven local health boards in Wales were funding translation services for pharmacists, without a Freedom of Information request, but added that it does do business with NHS organisations.

The guide adds that a Welsh toolkit for community pharmacists which addresses key Welsh phrases and covers the technical issues of dosage and cautionary labels, accredited and endorsed by the Welsh Language Commissioner, could be a way forward. This was something the Welsh Pharmacy Board raised in its letter to the Welsh Language Commissioner.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman told PJ Online that it was currently reviewing its policy on the use of the Welsh language on prescription forms and in the provision of patient information.

“We wish to see more progress in the provision of patient information on medicines through the medium of Welsh for those who prefer this. The health minister has written to the Welsh Language Commissioner, setting out our future intentions with regards to generating prescriptions and the provision of patient information - and the use of resources such as Language Line may play a part in this.”

Jocelyn Parkes, RPS director for Wales, added: “It is important that pharmacists use their professional judgement in the safe and timely supply of medicines from a prescription written in a language they are not fluent in. Pharmacists must be confident they understand the written instructions on any prescription and should use formal translation services recommended by their local health board or trusted informal networks to support them in their daily practice.”

She added: “A prescription written in Welsh should be treated in exactly the same way as any other language and we would recommend that if there are any queries about the legality of a prescription that our Welsh language resource page or RPS support services are referred to.”

Advice to prescribers: fully bilingual or in English

The guide also provides some advice to prescribers. It states: “Issuing prescriptions partly or solely in a language other than English may introduce time delays in being dispensed so if, as a prescriber, you think that a time delay could put your patient at risk, we recommend that you ensure that your prescription is fully bilingual or in English.”

Dedicated RPS webpage

The RPS has created a webpage on its site dedicated to the topic of dispensing prescriptions written in Welsh.  Ross Gregory, a health policy analyst at RPS Wales, told PJ Online: “The Welsh language page that we have developed recognises the importance of the Welsh language in pharmacy practice. It provides valuable advice to pharmacists about understanding how the language is used alongside English when working in Wales and applies equally to all pharmacists who live and work in Wales as well as those who travel to Wales to practise.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11137421

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