Principal policy adviser for RPS Wales Elen Jones reflects on the recent inquiry by the Welsh Language Commissioner on the use of Welsh in primary care.
Just saying “bore da” (good morning) can help!
The latest inquiry by the Welsh Language Commissioner, however, suggests that a minority of health professionals are not treating Welsh speakers with dignity and respect.
The importance of courtesy
“My language, my health: inquiry into the Welsh language in primary care”, published recently, drew attention to situations where lack of courtesy can be interpreted as discrimination.
One of the incidents cited which I found most disturbing was about a patient who telephoned the GP out-of-hours service after she had an accident. After providing her name, the person on the telephone thought it was a false name because he was not familiar with the Welsh name:
“Then I rang the [service] — the response I had was vile. They asked for the name of the patient and I said [my name] and they said ‘how do you spell that?’ I spelled my name out three times and the response was ‘that’s not a name, it’s a meaningless jumble of letters’.”
Dignity and respect
Although not all pharmacists are fluent Welsh speakers, we are all aware of the consultation skills needed to talk and listen to patients actively. As the report highlights, you do not have to be a Welsh speaker to engage with patients who are. You just have to listen, respect that their preferred language is Welsh and bear that in mind when tailoring your advice.
The Welsh Language Commissioner has asked professional bodies like us to highlight the implications of failing to treat Welsh speakers with dignity and respect and of failing to recognise their identity and needs. We have been asked to give practical guidance and highlight the link to our professional standards, so we have taken the opportunity to update our web page at rphar.ms/1waELsF.
The pharmacist is often the first point of contact for patients needing advice on healthcare and so, where possible, they should have the opportunity to communicate in a language they are comfortable using. It is important that patients are able to understand the information given so that they can get the most out of their medicines.
Being a Welsh speaker, I have encouraged my colleagues to say the odd word such as “os gwelwch yn dda” (please) and “diolch” (thank you) and have seen the positive impact this has had on Welsh-speaking patients.
Bilingualism is an integral feature of Welsh life and we understand that patients feel more at ease when speaking their mother tongue. We should use our communication skills to ensure that all patients are treated with respect and dignity and that patient safety is never compromised.
Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20065833
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