Hospital patients denied access to interpreters

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Hospital patients who do not speak English were denied access to interpreters, a survey has found.

As part of a national study, patient watchdog Healthwatch Norfolk interviewed 18 people - from Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Eritrea, Romania, Russia and Poland - who are living in the county and asked for their experiences of healthcare.

In one case, a patient said she was told by staff at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston that "because she’s been here 10 years, she should be able to speak English now and she is not entitled to an interpreter”.

James Paget University Hospital

James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston - Credit: James Paget University Hospital

Another Lithuanian speaker said she was not offered one during a three-week hospital stay with Covid-19.

She said: “They kept saying they just don’t have interpreters and they did also mention that it costs a lot of money for them to use an interpreter."

A spokesman for the James Paget University Hospital said translation services were available - and staff would be reminded of that.

He said: "We understand how important it is for patients and their families to understand all aspects of their care and treatment.

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"As such, translation services are available at the James Paget University Hospital for any patient who needs or requests assistance from an interpreter.

"The feedback in the Healthwatch survey is extremely useful in highlighting how we can make further improvements in this area, by ensuring all our staff are kept fully aware of the availability of our translation/interpreter services to our patients and their families."

In another case, a Lithuanian patient who needed to see her GP for a cervical screening, had to resort to asking a young boy within her community to translate for her.

Another, unable to explain to medical practice staff that she had an appointment, said: "I got stuck in front of the door and all I could say to them was ‘help’ which is the only word I knew how to say."

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: “The findings of this survey are very worrying.

“It is not up to healthcare 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.”